Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Growing fruit cont'd...Amelanchier canadensis?

We've bought a lot of our plants at Lowe's and Home Depot and still do. Not that we would not like to do business with our local nurseries but we simply cannot afford their prices as they usually carry larger caliper size trees and plants. There is one discount nursery that we do frequent especially in Fall when they have their 50% off trees and perennials sale but most nurseries are just too expensive.

Walking through Home Depot a couple of years back, I spotted an interesting looking large shrub or small tree with skinny multiple trunks and rounded leaves that I was not familiar with. The tag read Shadblow...what a strange name, followed by Amelanchier. I made note of the name and consulted my American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Garden Plants which further described the plant as a serviceberry. They also gave other names for the plant-Juneberry, Shadbush etc. They further described the plant as having numerous white flowers in the Spring and edible sweet berries in the Summer but that one would have to compete with the birds who apparently relish the berries. I liked the look of the plant which was sort of Japanese-ie with slender multiple trunks about 7 feet tall with branches starting only at the topmost 1/3 of the plant.

I rushed back and bought all three for sale. Luckily no one bought them during my research. These have turned out to be a great buy. The leaves turned a very nice gold and red in the Fall and as promised bloomed profusely in the Spring and produced an abundance of berries in the summer. I was so afraid the birds would get them before we had a chance to taste them that I picked many in an unripened red cherry colored state. We made a pie out of the berries but I didn't care for the taste, sort of like an anemic, bland cherry pie but my wife liked it enough to eat it all. I decided to wait and give it a chance to ripen which should be a dark purple black and be damned if the birds got them but interestingly the birds weren't the least bit attracted to the berries. Perhaps they were satiated, eating mulberries instead which were also in season.

We made a pie out of these fully ripened berries along with a handful of blueberries and the taste was magnificent. I later discovered that our neighbor directly across the street had a huge tree about twenty feet high by ten feet around (multiple suckers) absolutely loaded with fruit. I didn't recognize the tree as a Shadblow because its size and many trunks made it look like a massive bush, sort of like a giant forsythia. She would always ask to pick wild blackberries (actually domesicated blackberry gone wild) in the undeveloped lot behind our house but didn't think the service berries were edible, didn't try them and told her kids the berries were poisonous. Even after I told her it was edible and ate a few right in front of her she was reluctant to even try one! But she said I could help myself to as much as I wanted so I picked about a couple of gallons of the stuff. My brother-in-law who is a self proclaimed connoisseur of berry pies, having grown up in the Pacific Northwest where they have the true wild blackberry, tiny ones that grow on fire cleared lands in the mountains, proclaimed the pie delicious and almost as good as a wild blackberry pie! High praise indeed. I must say that I've had a piece or two of wild blackberry pie and it is a wonder. As mentioned previously a handful of blueberries and some lemon juice help to give it some tartness as the serviceberries don't have any tartness.

What a find, a beautiful small tree with Spring and Fall interest and fruit to boot! The berries were an important survival food for the Indians who mashed it with meat and fat to make pemmican. It's called a Shadblow because the tree flowers in Spring when the Shad (fish) swim upstream to spawn.

We found one more tree at a different Home Depot but have not seen one since. I guess it depends on the garden manager/buyer if they get them in or not. We bought the trees for $29.95 and I've seen them at local nurseries for $125 for the exact same size and more than $300 for larger specimens. We could never afford that! The four trees are doing very well but they do sucker so I have to be diligent to remove the suckers to maintain the beautiful form they have now. I've rooted the suckers so we have two 2 feet tall plants and four others about 6 inches tall planted in the yard. Trouble is the deer love to eat the tender leaves so the little plants are stunted. I don't know how the deer find these little plants but they do! The first three trees we bought were planted as a copse on a berm in the backyard. The fourth a lone sentinel in the side front, giving a little privacy screen from the neighbors.

Now that I know what it is, I see them everywhere-in college campuses, government building landscaping and housing development landscaping. Amazing that I could overlook such a wonderful plant. I'm glad it caught my eye that day.

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