Western Serviceberry, also known as Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia), is a widespread shrub or small tree that’s found in almost every county in the Pacific Northwest. It blooms in April and early May, depending on elevation and temperature. As I write this on April 29 it’s in bloom right now on both sides of the mountains in Washington and Oregon.
Serviceberry favors open areas with well-drained soil. It can be an understory shrub under Ponderosa Pines, a specimen plant on rocky shorelines, cling to canyon cliffs, or dot open valleys. It grows in a large number of plant associations.
When in full bloom, Serviceberry is a very showy shrub. With practice you can recognize it from a distance while driving down the highway. The large individual blossoms look ragged, with five bright white petals that seem to flop every which way. Blossoms are in leafy clusters at the tips of the branches.
The flowers are a nectar source for hummingbirds, the fruits attract a wide variety of birds, and many mammals consume the twigs and foliage.
Serviceberry is available in the nursery trade, both as the species and as hybrid varieties. We planted one in the back of my mother-in-law’s back yard border where it’s putting on quite a show.
In the garden, plant Serviceberry where it will have room to grow. It can reach 15 feet tall and spread to half that width or more. Plant in full sun to part sun in well-drained soil. If you have deer, expect them to browse this favored food in your garden just as they would in the wild.
The bottom photo was made on April 22 at the mouth of Umtanum Canyon. That’s one of my favorite places for wildflowers in central Washington. It’s on the Yakima River between Ellensburg and Yakima.