Amelanchier sp.Rosaceae (rose family)

Origin: Eastern North America


Serviceberries are small trees or large shrubs with slender trunks.

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Leaves range from oval to round, with fine teeth along the edge.

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Flowers are white, showy, borne in long clusters early in spring, before or with the leaves.

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Fruits are small, purple and borne on long stalks.

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Serviceberries are small trees or large shrubs with slender trunks.

Bark is smooth and grey with darker, twisted vertical lines.

Bark becomes rough and develops scales with age.

Twigs are slender with narrow appressed buds that are twisted with a tapered point, and typically have 5 scales.

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Leaves range from oval to round, with fine teeth along the edge. They are usually less than 8 cm (3 1/8") long.

Leaves often remain folded along the mid-vein before they are fully developed. Young leaves are often very hairy.

Leaves are arranged alternately on the branch.

Leaves turn yellow or coppery orange in the fall.

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Flowers are showy, opening early in spring before or with the leaves.

Flowers are borne in long clusters.

Flowers have 5 narrow white petals.

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Fruits are smal, round, 6 - 10 mm (1/4" - 3/8") in diameter with a persistent calyx like an apple or hawthorn.

Fruits, borne on long stalks, ripen from green through red to purple in mid-summer.

Fruits have many seeds in sweet, juicy flesh.

Birds often can't wait for the fruit to ripen!

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Most of the world's 16 species of serviceberry are native to North America; ten are native to Canada. Many species grow as shrubs but six of the species native to Canada can attain the size of small trees. Every province and territory, except Nunavut, has at least one native species of serviceberry.

Derivation of names

The genus name Amelanchier comes from amelanquier, the French name for a serviceberry native to the Provençal region of France.

Identification of serviceberry species

Identifying a specimen as a serviceberry, in the genus( Amelanchier is fairly straightforward, but it is often very difficult to identify the species. For example, downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) and smooth serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) are very similar; smooth serviceberry is considered by some to be a variety of downy serviceberry. Serviceberries also hybridize freely in the wild, resulting in many combinations of traits. Even at the genetic level, identification is problematic, as some serviceberries can produce offspring with three sets of chromosomes.

Commerical use

Serviceberry does not grow large enough for the wood to be of any commercial importance, but it has been used to make tool handles and other small items.

Human use

Serviceberry fruits are edible and have long been used by Aboriginal peoples. Downy serviceberry fruits were used by the Cree to make a pudding similar to plum pudding. Serviceberry fruits were also mixed into pemmican, a high-protein food consisting of meat, fat, and berries, that could sustain travellers for long periods of time. Serviceberry fruits may also be eaten off the tree, added to baked goods, or made into jams and jellies - if, and ONLY if, you get to them before the birds do!

Wildlife value

Wildlife are also drawn to serviceberries for sustenance and play an important role in seed dispersal. Bears, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and over 40 species of birds feed on the fruits. White-tailed deer also feed on the twigs and leaves.

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Serviceberry IN TORONTO

Serviceberry's place in Toronto's urban forest

With the trend to plant more native species, and because of their small size and appeal through the seasons, serviceberries have become a popular choice for planting in parks, yards and on streets. Serviceberries are a component of both the deciduous forest (in Ontario's Carolinian zone) and the mixed forest of the Great Lakes-St Lawrence region.

Landscape value and potential for home planting

Serviceberry's are ideal trees for small spaces such as front or back yards. Their white flowers, although short-lived, provide a showy display in the early days of spring; the edible berries are both attractive and feed urban wildlife or their human competitors; and their leaves provide a colourful display in fall.

Because their natural habitat is the forest understory, serviceberries will tolerate some shade. They are tolerant of dry soils and usually grow well in a variety of soil conditions.

Pests and diseases: Serviceberries are affected by the same pests and diseases that affect apple and pear trees (also members of the Rose family) including fireblight, rusts, mildew, and leafspots, but none appear to affect native serviceberries very seriously. For more information on Canada's native serviceberries and the pests and diseases that affect them, see Natural Resources Canada factsheet.

Smooth serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) is available for planting through LEAF's backyard tree program.

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WHERE CAN I SEE Serviceberry?

Links to maps at Canadian Tree Tours:

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