Plant of the Month - April 2012

Awake, thou wintry earth
Fling off thy sadness! 
Fair vernal flowers, 
laugh forth Your ancient gladness! 

Thomas Blackburn, "An Easter Hymn" 

Spring is not the best of seasons. 
Cold and flu are two good reasons; 
wind and rain and other sorrow, 
warm today and cold tomorrow. 
 Author Unknown 

Yes, Spring has arrived in its full unpredicatable glory at the Gardens, and we have tried to be equally unpredictable with our choice of plant of the month: 

Amelanchier canadensis 

(Snowy Mesipulus, aka Shadbush, aka Canadian serviceberry, aka chuckleberry, aka currant-tree, aka Juneberry, aka Shadblow Serviceberry, aka Shadblow, aka Shadbush Serviceberry, aka Sugarplum, aka Thicket Serviceberry). 

Rasbak 2005 - Wikimedia Commons 

This beautiful architectural plant with such a variety of names is of extended interest throughout most of the year. It gives an handsome display of mass white star-shaped blossom in April, and has gorgeous medium green foliage. After flowering lovely berries appear in July and the tree itself has stunning red/bronze bark. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.The plant is self-fertile. 

Amelanchier canadensis is a deciduous Shrub growing to 6 m (19ft) by 3 m (9ft) at a medium rate. It is hardy tree (not frost tender). The tree requires very little pruning. It prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil.The plant prefers acid and neutral soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade.It requires moist soil, but it dought hardy. The plant can tolerate strong winds but not maritime exposure. 

Prized for their profuse flowers and foliage colour as much as their fruit, dozens of species of Amelanchier (Family Rosaceae, subfamily Pomoideae) are cultivated mostly as home garden plants in North America. Various species are adapted to every state in the US and province of Canada, but most fruit production occurs in northern areas - Michigan, Minnesota, Canada. Common names include: juneberry, serviceberry, sarvis or sarvistree, shadblow, swamp sugar pear, currant tree, snowy mespilus, indian pear, Saskatoon berry, Canadian medlar, bilberry, maycherry. The name "saskatoon" derives from the Blackfoot Indian word "mis-sask-quah-too-min". 

The fruit is edible - raw or cooked. The fruit contains a few small seeds at the centre, it has a sweet flavour with a hint of apple. It can be eaten out of hand, used in pies, preserves etc or dried and used like raisins. The opinions of consumers is that the fruit can be of variable quality, with some forms having a distinct bitterness in the flavour whilst others are sweet, juicy and delicious. When the fruit is thoroughly cooked in puddings or pies the seed imparts an almond flavour to the food. The fruit is rich in iron and copper, and is about 10mm in diameter. Trees can yield 7 to 15 tonnes per hectare. 

Fully matured Juneberries are most often processed into wine, whilst fruit harvested early is best for processing, and fully mature fruit are best for fresh consumption or wine. The plains indians used Amelanchier berries to make pemmican, a staple food consisting of dried lean meat, fat, and dried berries. Pemmican is a form of exotic 'five-spice' flavouring, which probably accounts for why it was originally planted at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens. 

The plant itself can be located in the Upper Wilderness:

and the following pictures pay testament to the plants beauty (click on the picture for the full size image): 

Medicial Uses: 

(Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens Trust cannot take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally). 

A crude extract of berries is currently being investigated as an agent for cancer treatment. 

A tea made from the root bark (mixed with other unspecified herbs) was used as a tonic in the treatment of excessive menstrual bleeding and also to treat diarrhoea, a bath of the bark tea was used on children with worms, an infusion of the root was used to prevent miscarriage after an injury, and a compound concoction of the inner bark was used as a disinfectant wash. 


From Seed - it is best harvested 'green', when the seed is fully formed but before the seed coat has hardened, and then sown immediately in pots outdoors or in a cold frame. If stored seed is obtained early enough in the autumn, it can be given 4 weeks warm stratification before being left out in the winter and it should then germinate in the spring. Otherwise seed can be very slow to germinate, perhaps taking 18 months or more. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a sheltered outdoor position, planting them out once they are 20cm or more tall. If there is sufficient seed it is best to sow it thinly in an outdoor seedbed. 

Grow the seedlings on for two years in the seedbed before planting them out into their permanent positions during the winter. Layering in spring - takes 18 months. Division of suckers in late winter. The suckers need to have been growing for 2 years before you dig them up, otherwise they will not have formed roots. They can be planted out straight into their permanent positions if required. 

So there you have it, Amelanchier canadensis. Lots of crazy names, one lovely shrub. Please come and check it out when you next visit our gardens! 

Further Reading: 

F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956 
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary. 

Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World. Simmons. 

A. E. Growing Unusual Fruit. A very readable book with information on about 100 species that can be grown in Britain (some in greenhouses) and details on how to grow and use them. 

Bean. W. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 - 4 and Supplement. A classic with a wealth of information on the plants, but poor on pictures. 

Clapham, Tootin and Warburg. Flora of the British Isles. A very comprehensive flora, the standard reference book but it has no pictures. 

Fernald. M. L. Gray's Manual of Botany. A bit dated but good and concise flora of the eastern part of N. America. 

Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants. An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader. 

Turner. N. J. and Szczawinski. A. Edible Wild Fruits and Nuts of Canada. A very readable guide to some wild foods of Canada. 

Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992. Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. 

Thanks to: 

Gordon Sammons 

All photographs by Graham and Christopher High 2012 unless otherwise credited.

1 comment:

  1. Another great Plant of the Month post Graham. The flower photos are lovely - it is a stunning shrub. I will look out for it in the Upper Wilderness when I next visit. Fingers crossed it will still be flowering!