Sometimes also called Shadbush or Saskatoon, this small tree is a welcome early spring flowering forest dweller. This tree is also a mutt of the forest with several different species occurring in the eastern and northeastern United States. It is one of the earliest flowering trees once the frost leaves the ground which is how it is reputed to have gained it's name. It is rumored to have been named Serviceberry because when it flowered, it meant that the ground had thawed and both burial and travelling church services could begin again. The name Shadbush is said to originate from flowering when the shad run. Shad are an ocean fish that migrate up the rivers to spawn in the spring on the east coast of the US. These fish were an important part of the Native American and early settlers' diets.
Serviceberry can grow as a large multi-stemmed shrub-looking plant and also as a small tree that does not exceed 20 feet tall. It flowers early in the spring, often in mid-April. This spring in the Midwest, we're still awaiting the flowers due to the extended cold temperatures. Serviceberry is a real benefit to early pollinators, providing pollen to bees and early butterflies. It is also a favorite food of deer and rabbits in forests. Serviceberry does produce fruit which is relished by many birds, mammals and insects. The fruit is edible to humans but not often cultivated.
There are dozens of different native serviceberries in the US and that is further confused by multiple cultivated varieties. Hybrids are sold in many garden centers as well. The tree bursts with white flowers in the spring, remains fairly innocuous in the summer and it's leave turn a beautiful burnished orange or yellow color in the fall. They often grow under the forest canopy and maintain a beautiful wide branching structure in the winter.