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Canadian Serviceberry

There are approximately 32 accepted species of serviceberry found in the world, with about 20 found natively in the United States and Canada. I say "approximately" and "about" because botanists have proposed far more species or variants than have been accepted by taxonomists following the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN). For example, Amelanchier humilis var. campestris, Amelanchier humilis var. compacta, Amelanchier humilis var. exserrata, Amelanchier mucronata, and Amelanchier stolonifera have all been offered as unique species or varieties and rejected as being simply Amelanchier humilis and its natural deviations. The 20 native North American species collectively inhabit every state and province in the United States and Canada except Nunavut.

Canadian Serviceberries (Amelanchier canadensis) are an available habitat and food source for browsing wildlife and birds in the eastern United States (except Vermont) down to the Gulf Coast and in eastern Canada (except Newfoundland). The plant grows as a small tree or large, multi-trunked shrub 6-20 feet high, often growing in clumps where seed distribution was in scat. Unlike some species of serviceberry (A. obovalis and A. stolonifera, for example), the Canadian is not rhizomatous and therefore does not form dense thickets. It prefers wetlands and areas with 30-60 inches of precipitation annually, at least 2 feet of soil depth, at least 110 frost-free days, and does not tolerate temperatures below -33 degrees F. It is a fairly long-lived for a shrub, with 20 years expected. And its southern ranges extend all the way down to Florida and around to Mississippi.

Canadian Serviceberry
Not yet ripe Canadian serviceberries (photo Copyright
2008 by Kevin C. Nixon, used with permission)

This plant has other common names. The most common is Canadian Shadbush. Why shadbush? Well, it just happens that the shad run up the coastal rivers to spawn at the same time as these bushes are covered in white flowers. When the bush bursts into white bloom, it's time to go shad fishing. In some areas, the flowers start falling when the shad run, so when you see the flowers blowing in the wind it is time to go shad fishing; this gave rise to the name "Canadian Shadblow." And, it is also know as Juneberry - because it typically ripens in June.

This is often one of the earliest plants to bloom and does so with a showy profusion of white flowers when the woodlands are still practically bare of greenery. Its young leaves, which only emerge after flowering, are covered with a fine grey fuzz that disappears as the leaves mature but often causes this plant to be misidentified as Downy Serviceberry (A. arborea var. austromontana). The flowers give way to many small, very flavorful, dark red to purple, sweet and juicy, apple-shaped fruits, often well-hidden by the dark green leaves. Although called a berry, the fruit are actually pomes, like apples, hawthorns, medlars, pears, rowans, and quinces. The only way to harvest enough to make wine or jelly is to stake out a stand of them, which is easy to do when they are in bloom, and visit it frequently as the berries develop. When the birds start feeding, you only have a very few days to get your share. If you can obtain them commercially, buy them.

Canadian Serviceberry Wine

Pick only ripe berries. Wash, destem and crush berries in finely meshed nylon straining bag. Put in primary with sugar, acid blend, 3 quarts water, and finely crushed Campden tablet, stirring well to dissolve sugar. Cover with muslin and put in warm place. Add pectic enzyme after 12 hours and wine yeast and nutrient after additional 12 hours. Stir twice daily for 5 days, pushing straining bag under liquid and gently squeeze to extract juice and gas. After 5th day of active fermentation, gravity-drain straining bag one hour, then squeeze gently to extract additional juice while minimizing clouding. Return drained juice to primary, recover and wait 24 hours, then siphon off sediment into secondary and fit airlock, adjusting volume to allow 3 inches of space for foaming. Move to cooler place. When vigorous fermentation subsides (10-14 days), top up with water, reserved juice or grape juice. Ferment additional 2 weeks, then rack into clean secondary. Refit airlock and rack after 30 days. Wait another 30 days, rack again and, if clear, bottle. If not clear use fining agent, wait 10 days, then rack and bottle. This is a very good semi-dry wine, fit to taste after only 3 months but progressively improving with age. [Author's own recipe.]

This recipe was posted June 19th, 2009.

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