Harnett County,
North Carolina

Cooperative Extension 

What service does the serviceberry provide?

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Question What service does the serviceberry provide?

Answer Serviceberry is one of the common names used for Amelanchier arborea. This small native American tree (15-25 ft tall) actually provides several services. When European settlers were colonizing North America, they recognized this understory tree for blooming at a critical time of year. Settlers that had died during the winter could not be buried because the ground was frozen. The blooming of the “serviceberry” coincided with the thawing of the ground. When the Amelanchier trees were blooming, “services” (funeral or memorial) could be held. Eventually, the tree was simply called “serviceberry.”

Amelanchier trees flower in March or April prior to the redbuds (Cercis sp.) and dogwoods (Cornus florida). These flowers serve nectar to bees, beetles and butterflies. Being one of the earliest native flowering trees, they service the hungry insects needing nectar.

The flowers turn into small berry-like pomes. This fruit production serves as another service. This service is to wildlife. Being one of the earliest berry producing plants in the forest, it is very popular with wildlife. Bear, deer, squirrels, elk and birds all feast on the serviceberry fruit in June.

Before the European settlers arrived, this tree served the Indians. It was one of the ingredients in an edible mixture called pemmican. This survival food was basically suet for people. http://www.ccmuseumedres.com/tour.php?action=details&record=149

Serviceberry fruit aren’t the only useful part of this plant. Caterpillars of tiger butterflies, viceroys, Gypsy moth and other butterflies all feed on the leaves. These leaves are also preferred by deer and rabbits. Serviceberry leaves have wonderful fall color. After feeding the deer and butterflies, this tree will produce enough leaves to glow in the fall.

Even the wood of Amelanchier trees was used by settlers and Indians. The extreme density and hardness of its wood caused it to be preferred for making arrows, fishing rods and other hand tools.

As an ornamental plant, Amelanchier still provides a service. It provides visual beauty in the form of flowers, unique bark and fall color. For more info on serviceberry, visit http://www.uky.edu/Ag/Horticulture/kytreewebsite/commonnamefiles/text/aarboreainfo.htm If you do not have internet access, call us at 910-893-7533 or email me at gpierce@harnett.org

Pemmican was a mixture of powdered (ground up) meat and fat. The ratio was typically around 50/50. Dried berries were basically added for flavor. Today we flavor our pemmican with ketchup, mustard and a side of fries.

Gary L. Pierce

Horticulture Extension Agent

Harnett County

 
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