How to Identify Serviceberries in the Wild
Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) is a small, shrub or tree that, although frequently cultivated as a garden specimen, also grows in the wild. Of the about 30 species in serviceberry's genus, most are native to North America and still range freely in their native habitats.
Even though serviceberry species vary in size and form, most of them share a few characteristics. All of them have small, elliptical leaves with fine teeth along the edges. Most species bloom in spring with five-petaled, white flowers. The flowers last only a few days and give way to juicy berries that resemble blueberries in size, color and flavor.
Several species of the genus range throughout North America, and their common names vary from place to place. In addition to serviceberry, the common names include Juneberry, shadbush, shadblow, saskatoon, sarvisberry and Indian wild pear. Some of the common names refer to the time of year that the plant bears fruits, which is often in June. Other common names reflect when the plant flowers, which is in spring, about the time of Easter services and when shad fish spawn.
Downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), which is also often called shadbush, is native to much of the eastern one-half of the United States. It grows slowly and reaches a mature height of 15 to 25 feet. Its white flower clusters droop when they bloom, its berries are red when ripe and its bark is smooth, gray and vertically striped. Downy serviceberry is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9.
Shadblow serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) grows 6 to 30 feet in height. Like downy serviceberry, its bark is gray and striped, but it holds its flower clusters more upright. Its berries are dark blue or nearly black when they are ripe. This species is native to eastern North America and in the wild prefers wet, swampy locations. It is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8.
Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia) is a native of western North America. About 10 feet in height, it is somewhat smaller than certain other serviceberry species. Its flower clusters are held erect, and its berries are dark purple when ripe. It is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9.
Alleghany serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) has a slim, upright growth habit, often reaching 25 feet in height but only 5 to 10 feet in canopy width. It differs from some related species in that its immature leaves are bronze in color. This species is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9.
Serviceberry fruit is round and, depending on its plant's species, varies from about 1/4 to 1/2 inch diameter. In most serviceberry species, the berries are red when they are immature but darken to a deep blue or purple as they ripen. Like blueberries, each serviceberry fruit has a fringed crown opposite its stem. The crown also helps to differentiate serviceberries from potentially harmful native berries, none of which has a crown.
In many areas, native plants such as serviceberry are considered protected species and may not be gathered without proper permits. Always be aware of the relevant local laws before you remove a plant from the wild.
Some wild berries are poisonous. So never eat the fruit or other part of a wild plant unless you are certain of the plant's identification and that it is safe to eat.