Serviceberry, also called Juneberry, (Amelanchier) is a native tree or shrub that produces bluish fruit – small berries similar to blueberries in size and color that are loved by birds and many other forms of wildlife.
Serviceberries were given their common name by the colonists. Historically, a blooming serviceberry sent a message that the ground had thawed enough for the colonists to bury their dead. Thus serviceberry meant funeral service.
Since the serviceberry flowers a bit earlier than redbuds or dogwoods, they remain a treat for early pollinators. You can buy Amelanchier as a single- or multi-trunk tree. Either way, it is easy to grow when planted in moist, well-drained soil. It thrives in full to partial sun.
This is a perfect tree for small lots. At maturity, it stands 15 to 25 feet tall and about 15 feet across. Should you wish to simply enjoy the cloud of white spring flowers and the vibrant fall splash of red-orange color, grow the single trunk specimen.
However, the multi-trunk tree makes access to the berries easier to harvest if you choose to do so. Yes, these berries are edible and they do not ripen all at once but in intervals. They make delicious pies, jams and jellies. You do not see these berries offered commercially as harvesting is labor intensive; each berry must be plucked individually and they must be ripe or you will not be able to pull them from the stem.
I have enjoyed having this tree in my yard for many years. Perhaps you have space in your garden for one too!
• Catherine Harrington is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the Extension office at 630-584-6166 for information.