Amelanchier sp. | Family: Rosaceae
Submission: Eric Viera ‘20 and Bryce O’Brien ‘20
Leaves – silver/shiny-green with incredibly fine teeth that feel almost bristle-like to the touch. These leaves are simple, alternate, elliptical and become a deep reddish-orange during senescence.
Buds – typically reddish, thin, sharp pointed and covered with light pubescence along the edges of the bud scales.
Fruit/Flowers – fleshy, 8-11mm dark purple berries and five-petaled dioicous (male and female reproductive organs found on 2 separate plants) flowers that can be either pink or white.
Bark – smooth grey bark with faint vertical stripes stretching up the trunk.
Known for its beautiful white flowers, shadbush (Amelanchier sp.) is a popular garden choice throughout the eastern seaboard of North America. A medium sized shrub with a height range of 4-25 feet, shadbush is part of the rose family (Rosaceae), and it sports a mixture of traits that are characteristic of this family. The globose form of shadbush resembles that of a cherry tree, while the fruit and flowers resemble that of crabapple.
Shadbush is found across a wide geographical range. Although the distribution of shadbush stretches from the forests of southern Ontario to the panhandle of Florida, the shrub (or small tree) is rarely found in any sort of abundance or grove. Considering this impressive distribution, shadbush can survive and propagate in a wide variety of abiotic conditions. They are drawn to a wide array of habitats including; swampy lowlands, dry woods, and around the edges of hardwood forests (typically near the undergrowth of yellow birch and red spruce). Shadbush thrives in loam soil but is also considerably tolerant of clay and sandy soils.
Another name for shadbush is “serviceberry.” The conception of this name comes from the early annual bloom of serviceberry flowers. It was said that once the serviceberry flowers bloom, the ground has thawed enough to dig a grave. With regards to human value, shadbush has important medicinal properties. Historically, indigenous peoples used the fruit as a remedy for many different types of ailments; the fruit served as a fever remedy, laxative, disinfectant, and flu medicine. In addition to medicinal value, there is a spiritual importance associated with shadbush; this is evident in the Achomawi folk-tale The Silver-Fox and the Coyote. In this story, shadbush twigs are shaved and enchanted by the titular deities, allowing the shadbush shavings to walk the Earth as man. The affiliation of this tree with the creation of man has been used to explain its medicinal qualities.
The Blackfoot and the Okanagon Indignous Nations also relied on shadbush as a food source. The fleshy berries can be harvested in June-August and are eaten raw, sun-dried, or preserved as jelly, jam, or wine. Shadbush petals, leaves, and small twigs are boiled to make tea in Cheyenne and Lakota Indigenous Nations. Shadbush wood was used by these people for baskets, tools, and rope – although its uses today do not extend beyond pulpwood. The historical uses of shadbush are as impressive as the plant’s geographical distribution and sheer beauty.
Benfer, A. (n.d.). Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from http://www.aihd.ku.edu/foods/serviceberry.html.
Judson, K. B. (2010). Myths and legends of the Pacific Northwest: especially of Washington and Oregon. Charleston, SC: Nabu Press.
Snyder, S. A. (2019, June 8). Amelanchier arborea. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/amearb/all.html.
Zuzek, K., Berlin, B., & Weisenhorn, J. (n.d.). Serviceberry. Retrieved November 19, 2019, from https://extension.umn.edu/trees-and-shrubs/serviceberry.