Wild Serviceberry- Zone 1
Characteristics of the tree
Serviceberry, or Saskatoon berry, is a small deciduous tree or shrub native to the northern United States and most of Canada. It produces a fruit that resembles blueberries both in appearance and taste. These plants are seedlings of wild trees, so their fruit is generally small in size, though still of good quality.
Serviceberries have an exquisite flavour very similar to blueberries, but are smaller, sweeter and with a hint of almond flavour that comes from the seeds. They are a real treat – if you can get hold of them before the birds do.
The berries can be eaten raw or in any number of other ways such as in: jellies, cobblers, pies, muffins, coffee cakes or as dessert toppings. They are ready for harvest between July and August depending on location, and appears in a spectrum of colours throughout the season.
Note that if you are intending to harvest the fruit, it is important to protect it from birds and insects, as both find it very tasty. Since it is in the same family as apple trees, it may be affected by many of the same insects that affect apples.
The best way to protect the berries is with netting placed over branches, or even perhaps the entire tree when it is small enough, right after it finishes flowering.
Serviceberries are less well-known than they deserve, given their many qualities. These slow-growing plants are among the most cold-resistant fruit-producing trees in existence, growing naturally in areas up to zone 1a, where precious little else can grow.
There are somewhere between 15 and 30 species of Serviceberry native to North America and with a very strong tendency to hybridize in the wild – there are constantly new hybrid varieties being born. This makes it very difficult to identify any one specific variety, but most are very similar in most of their characteristics, particularly the fruit.
They can occur as either shrubs or small trees, rarely exceeding heights of 4 metres or spreads of 4.5 metres. The trees are relatively short-lived, with lifespans usually ranging between 40-60 years.
Most serviceberry trees will tend to produce some suckers, growing into a bushy form rather than a traditional tree. In their case, this is considered an advantage, as it means that there are more branches from which the tree can produce fruit. They do not usually spread and become invasive, as is the case for some other suckering trees.
These plants grow in a wide variety of conditions, being adaptable to all but the most waterlogged soils and doing well in both sun and partial shade. If you are growing them for their fruit, however, you should know that they will provide optimal yields when grown in full sun.
The tree has a silvery grey bark and small, silvery/green oval or elliptical leaves with finely toothed margins. They are preceded by brilliant white flowers that appear in early spring.
In addition to their delicious fruit, Serviceberries are also an exquisite sight, providing ornamental value year round. Early spring is marked by the blooming of small clusters of beautiful bright white flowers with five long petals. These are quickly followed by vibrant leaves that change from a purplish hue to a more typical green as they mature.
The flowers are replaced by clusters of fruit that progress from green to red to dark purple until they are ripe in June. Leaves then provide attractive yellows, reds and oranges in the fall.
Even in winter these trees are a sight to behold thanks to their ornamental bark that really plays up when they are pruned down to a single trunked specimen. Another option is to train them into a beautiful and functional hedge.
The First Nations not only consume the berries (they are an important ingredient in pemmican) but also use the dried leaves to make tea. They also use the plant medicinally and for making baskets and cord.
In fact, these fruits were of such importance, particularly in the prairies, that the city of Saskatoon, in Saskatchewan, is actually named after the Cree word for the berries.
Serviceberries are slow-growing and may grow either as a small tree or shrub, depending on location. They will generally not exceed 4.5 metres in height, and can be expected to live for around 40-60 years. This illustration shows a 20-year-old serviceberry tree that has attained its maximum height.
You should note that this illustration is meant only to give a general indication of what you can expect, and the growth of your tree might look somewhat different. The development of a tree depends on the soil type, irrigation, fertilisation and climatic conditions. What we show here is based on our observation of the growth of serviceberries in zone 4, in rather poor soil. In zone 2, growth will probably be slower, while in a rich soil it could be faster.
All our serviceberry trees are sold bare-root, without pots. They have been cultivated directly in our soil. Bare-root trees must be taken out of the ground and shipped during their period of dormancy, which is why we only ship trees in the spring. A big advantage with these kinds of trees is that they take up very little space, and can therefore be easily shipped by mail all over Canada!
This photograph shows a 3-foot plum tree, just like one that you might receive. Depending on our availability at the time of preparing your order, yours might be somewhat smaller.