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Amelanchier

Amelanchier spicata - garden shadblow

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Garden shadblow is not known in the wild, but only as a garden plant and escapee in northern Europe. It is thought to be a form or cross of the North American running service berry (Amelanchier stolonifera), and was earlier called Amelanchier botryapium. Garden shadblow has a rather special habit: tall, erect stems in dense thickets. Because it produces only short runners, this method of spreading is not uncontrollable. However, birds love the berries and have spread the seeds, for example to forested ridges or the forest edges, creating a headache for environment officials.

The leaves are about the size of a matchbox, finely toothed, hairy at first, with a short apex. The white flowers are in erect clusters and when in flower the whole shrub seems to have been splashed with whipped cream. The berries ripen from reddish to blue-black. Though edible, they are less tasty than those of the related Saskatoon service berry (A. alnifolia) and Allegheny service berry (A. laevis)

The garden shadblow is the most frequently planted of the service berries in Finland, but at Mustila is quite rare.

 

Amelanchier laevis - Allegheny service berry

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Native to the eastern United States, the Allegheny service berry prefers thickets with dry to moist soil at the forest edge. Beauty in two seasons, it is a slender small tree with spring flowering and autumn colour. The flowers are white 5-petalled in drooping clusters, while in autumn the leaves take on shades of warm orange.

In garden use it is decorative and requires little care. It is one of the finest species planted on Mustila’s Etelärinne (Southern slope) when it flowers in May, with the white flowers framed by the newly opening, transparent copper-coloured leaves. The fruit, ripening in August, are dark blue, juicy, sweet berries popular with Arboretum staff and also with local birds. Despite this, it has not regenerated naturally in many places.

 

Amelanchier alnifolia - Saskatoon service berry

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Called in the trade saskatoon or blueberry tree, the Saskatoon service berry is sometimes planted for its looks, but more often for its edible berries. Dark blue, they ripen at Mustila in early August. They have a unique taste, somewhere between blueberry, rowan and plum, with a trace of almond. The berries are sweet and almost completely without acidity, so they are often used mixed with other berries.

The Saskatoon service berry is a multi-stemmed shrub very like garden shadblow (A. spicata), though somewhat broader and more tree-like in habit. Although it doesn’t produce root suckers, it does produce suckers from the root collar. The leaves usually have a blunt or even notched tip, the edges having large widely spaced teeth. The flowers are like those of the bird-cherry, but smaller, though the plant itself is more closely related to the rowans.

The Saskatoon is not very common in Finland but shrubs have been found in old parks and arboreta. Nowadays nurseries market varieties like ‘Smoky’ and ‘Northline’ mainly for their berries.

The specimens at Mustila are of unknown origin but very productive and successful. They have gradually been spread throughout the Arboretum by birds. This tendency to escape into the wild should be kept in mind when planting any of the service berries, though so far only the shadblow has spread widely enough to be regarded as an exotic weed.

 

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