The species described here are Amelanchier lamarckii (apple serviceberry) and A. Alnifolia (Saskatoon, Juneberry or western serviceberry; this is the main species from which fruiting cultivars are derived). Other commonly used species include: A. arborea (Downy serviceberry), A. asiatica (Asian serviceberry), A. canadensis (Shadberry) and A. laevis (Allegheny serviceberry).
Prized for their flowers and foliage colour as much as their fruit, dozens of species of Amelanchier are cultivated mostly as garden ornamental plants in North America and to a lesser degree in Europe.
Juneberry species occur throughout North America, Europe and Asia, so the plants have a pretty wide range and are adapted to most habitats.
Other common names include: Juneberry, serviceberry, sarvis or sarvistree, shadbush, swamp sugar pear, currant tree, snowy mespilus, indian pear, Saskatoon berry, Canadian medlar and in Germany the rock pear.
These are fantastic fruiting plants producing some of the most delicious berries I have ever had the pleasure to eat – truly outstanding! The fruits are sweet, apple like with just a hint of almond from the small seeds.
Now, I first tried Juneberries in a park in Essen, Germany on a visit to my in-laws, with my wife and children about 15 years ago. I had read extensively about this member of the Rosaceae family, but had always managed to find only plants which had already been stripped clean of fruit by the birds (they really like these berries too), until that wonderful July day. By chance I noticed that the trees in the park were Juneberries and that they were laden with fruits – so, my wife, daughters and I much to the amusement and bemusement of several dog walkers proceeded to gorge ourselves on our lucky harvest. We even returned to my in-laws for containers so that we could take a fair proportion of these delectable fruits away with us.
One of my particular favourites in this family is the apple serviceberry (Amelanchier lamarckii), a tree Juneberry growing to somewhere in the region 6m by 4m.
This beautiful plant is also known as Snowy Mesipilus. In April the plants explode into a profusion of white blossoms and make a welcome additional burst of colour and life in the spring garden. The flowers of the Juneberry when examined up close are perhaps more understated than those of crab apples and other early spring blossoms, but when viewed on mass from afar they are truly magnificent trees. These pretty flowers are then followed by their delicious fruits from very late June through July (I know they are called “June” berries, but the fruits are rarely ripe in the UK until July).
As autumnal winds begin to blow through the garden, these fantastic trees just keep on giving as they put on a dazzling display of red, orange and yellow as their leaves bow to the steady march of the seasons. Amelanchiers’ fiery hued leaves stay on the branches to quite late in the season, but once they have all finally fallen we can sit back and admire the plants attractive stripped, grey bark.
On top of all of this, apple serviceberry plants are self-fertile, they are not fussy about soil and can be grown in heavy clay. The plants prefer slightly acid and neutral soil and they can grow in semi-shade, they do however, require moist, but not wet, soil.
The fruit, which is up to 10mm in diameter, is sweet and succulent with a subtle taste of apples and a hint of almonds from the seeds. My family and I love to eat these straight from the tree, but they can also be dried for later use or made into a superb jam and an excellent liqueur.
Juneberry Liqueur recipe
2 cups ripe Juneberries.
2 cups vodka
1 cup simple sugar syrup
Place the berries in a Kilner jar or similar, cover with the vodka and store in a cool and dark place for about 4 weeks, shake the jar gently each day. After a month strain the liquid from the fruit, the alcohol soak berries can be used as a boozy treat with ice cream, add the simple sugar syrup and bottle. Store for at least three months, but the flavour improves the longer you can leave it. Enjoy!
The fruit is rich in iron and copper.
Another great species is the Saskatoon, more of a shrubby plant (growing 2m to 3m tall) than the apple serviceberry, but equally delicious. Its berries are sweet and good to eat. Some people consider saskatoons to be a blueberry substitute for those whose gardens do not have acid soil. This species is grown commercially on pick-your-own farms in parts of North America and Canada.
Both of these species exhibit good drought tolerance, much higher than for most other small berry fruits.
Propagation: Seedlings are most commonly grown. Clones are produced from suckers, root cuttings, or softwood cuttings.
Rootstocks: Usually not used; seedlings are grown on own roots.