A Garden World reader asked that I recommend a small flowering tree with edible fruit that might complement her midtown Tulsa garden. She also asked that it be a fruit tree that requires no spraying.
I didn’t think twice before offering a suggestion. “Serviceberry!” I enthusiastically responded.
If the sweet lady took my advice, she can look forward to years of delicious berries and lovely fall foliage.
Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandflora) is a beloved hybrid cultivar growing in the Linnaeus Teaching Garden in Woodward Park. I first encountered this small flowering tree years ago while visiting the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. I was at the botanical garden (arguably one of the finest botanical garden in the nation) to spend time with an old friend and fellow horticulturist. It was a beautiful June day. As we passed a lovely, multistemmed small tree loaded with bright red and blue berries, my friend paused and pulled a handful of berries from a low hanging branch. He tossed half the berries into his mouth and offered the rest to me.
My first thought was to wait a few minutes to see if my friend keeled over with food poisoning before tossing the berries into my mouth. While pondered that thought, my buddy eagerly collected and devoured another handful of berries. A look of pure pleasure spread across his face. Cautiously, I followed suit and immediately became a big fan of Serviceberry.
When asked to describe the flavor of Serviceberries, I generally respond by saying that the pretty little berries taste somewhat like a cross between wild cherry and blueberry. Serviceberry isn’t related to either, however. It has its own unique taste, better some would argue, than that of cherry or blueberry.
Flavor alone is reason enough to grow Serviceberry. However, there are other valid reasons to include this native species in your garden. In early April, it smothers its slender, gray branches with a cloud of tiny, sparkling white flowers. In June, its graceful branches load up with edible, ripe fruit. Serviceberry is the first of all the tree fruits to ripen in June and is, therefore, often referred to as “Juneberry.”
Serviceberry has still other garden attributes. In late October, its lovely green foliage turns brilliant shades of red and orange, hence the cultivar name “Autumn Brilliance.” Even after shedding all of its fall foliage, this graceful, multistem small tree displays a lovely vase-shaped branch structure in the winter garden. In short, what’s not to like about Serviceberry?
Autumn Brilliance is just one of several outstanding Serviceberry cultivars offered by the nursery industry. It’s a favorite of mine because of its toughness relative to our challenging Oklahoma weather. Also, its sweet berries make to-die-for pies!
Autumn Brilliance reaches a height of approximately 12 to 15 feet. Plant in full sun or partial shade. Heavy fruiting typically begins the second or third year after planting. Birds adore Serviceberries. Purchase bird netting when fruiting begins. Otherwise, there will be no Serviceberry pies to be had at your house.
Barry Fugatt is director of horticulture at the Linnaeus Teaching Garden and Tulsa Garden Center in Woodward Park. He may be reached at 918-576-5152 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org