Featured Native Plant of the Week: Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)

by J. Thomas Gebauer, ASLA

Each week TLC brings you one featured native plant to highlight the wonderful, beautiful native plants that are available to us here in Teton County. We choose to highlight natives specifically for the adaptations to this climate, their food value to regional wildlife, decreases the damage done by exotic invasive species and we believe they promote the true natural beauty of this land.

This weeks featured native plant to Teton County is the Serviceberry or Amelanchier alnifolia. This lovely and widely dispersed native ranges all the way from sea-level to around 11,200 feet in the Rocky Mountains. While the plant can be used for it’s ornamental value, the fruit is highly regarded for both human and animal consumption. Pastries and jellies can be made and the fruit itself is considered a “super-fruit” for it’s high nutrient content.

Native American uses

Native Americans used Saskatoon serviceberry wood to make arrow shafts, spears, and digging sticks. They made a tea, used for treating colds, by boiling the branches

Wildfire Adaptability

The serviceberry is tolerant of wildfires. The plant will be top-killed during a fire event, but will regenerate from the extensive root system beneath the surface.

Animal Uses

Saskatoon serviceberry is a valuable wildlife plant. Wild ungulates browse twigs and foliage; fur and game mammals such as black bear, beaver, and hares consume twigs, foliage, fruits, and bark. Upland game birds consume the fruits and buds, and many species of rodents and songbirds eat the fruits. Where available in quantity, Saskatoon serviceberry is often a primary or important component of the winter diet of big game species. In Montana, utilization of Saskatoon serviceberry browse was heaviest during periods of deep snow. Second heaviest use was in spring. All big game species, including mountain goat and bighorn sheep, utilized Saskatoon serviceberry. Elk would often browse all available twigs before moving to another area. fs.fed.us

Landscape Uses

The serviceberry shoots up many stems and can become “legy” but creates a beautiful dense form that has wonderful summer foliage with delicate flowers and elegant dark purple berries. Consider using as a border plant or as a focal point for your native fruit garden.

Taxonomy and Characteristics

Scientific name: Amelanchier alnifolia
Common name: Serviceberry, Saskatoon Berry
Mature height: 6-20′
Mature spread: 6-12′
Flower season: Mid-spring
Flower color: White
Duration: Perennial
Life form: Deciduous shrub
Growth form: Multiple stem
Growth Rate: Moderate
Fire resistance: No
Fire tolerance: High
Toxicity: Slight
Drought tolerance: Medium
Commercial availability: Readily available
Palatable to browsing animals: High
Palatable to grazing animals: Low
moisture use: Medium
Soils: Highly adaptable, alkaline, moist

Notes:

Although Saskatoon serviceberry is often a primary component of winter diets, ungulates normally consume a variety of other shrubs as well. A diet consisting solely of Saskatoon serviceberry can be fatal due to presence of cyanogenic glycosides.

Keep in mind this plant will attract animals during most seasons and even bears when the fruit is ripened.

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