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NC State Extension

Serviceberry, Drought-Tolerant Tree for North Carolina

'Amelanchier' Photo by JC Raulston

‘Amelanchier’
Photo by JC Raulston

The serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) is a small tree or shrub with white airy blooms that make it a desirable landscape plant. In the Piedmont, Amelanchier arborea beats other spring beauties to the punch, blooming earlier than dogwoods and often earlier than redbuds.

The berries are the size and shape of a blueberry with a distinct taste and can be eaten fresh or used in pies and jams. If you prefer feeding wildlife, birds seem to consider the berries fine cuisine.

The species and most cultivars have good fall color which also contributes to its landscape appeal. Fall foliage varies from yellow to red. The smooth, grayish white bark of young trees and the reddish purple buds add winter interest.

When looking for this tree for your landscape, be aware that common names include serviceberry, sarvisberry, shadbush, shadblow and juneberry. Amelanchier is sometimes called a currant by people unfamiliar with real currants (Ribes sp.). The names can be confusing, but most named hybrids have A. arborea or A. laevis in their parentage. These perform well in North Carolina. A natural hybrid called A. x grandiflora is good for edible landscaping. A. alnifolia is a more northern species and won’t do as well in North Carolina.A. arborea is often incorrectly sold as A. canadensis, which is a small suckering shrub.

'A. x spicata' Photo by Todd Lasseigne

‘A. x spicata’
Photo by Todd Lasseigne

Amelanchier does well in full sun to partial shade and thrives in most landscape situations. In nature, A. arborea often grows on dry ridges with shallow soils which means it is drought tolerant once established. Insects usually are not a problem. Overfertilization may cause some fireblight. Rust may sometimes occur, which may reduce the yield but will not kill the plant.

At the JC Raulston Arboretum (JCRA), you will find Amelanchier ‘Princess Diana’ in the White Garden. The flowers are a fitting complement, to this garden devoted to the purest of colors. The White Garden is one of the most formal areas within the JCRA. To learn more, visit jcra.ncsu.edu.

David Goforth