WILDFLOWER HOME PAGE      SEARCH BY PLANT NAME     WHITE FLOWERS      CONTACT US

    Amelanchier shrubs and trees are found in many areas of the United States.  Their most common name, "Serviceberry", originated with early Eastern settlers who used these very early spring flowers for burial services when the ground finally thawed enough to allow them to bury loved ones who had died in the winter.  (In places such as the Appalachians and Ozarks, Serviceberry is often pronounced, "Sahrviceberry".)

     The "berry" part of the name came, of course, because these plants produce noteworthy berries  --  large and tasty.  Since the berries ripen in June, the genus is also known as "Juneberry".  Because the plant blooms along the Atlantic seacoast when the Shad fish run upstream, it is also known there as "Shadbush".

    A very common eastern Serviceberry, Amelanchier arborea, is a tree, commonly growing to thirty feet tall and a foot in diameter.  Our two species in the Four Corners area are many-branched shrubs commonly with one or two inch diameter stems to six feet tall, but it is not unusual to find them on seasonally moist ground with multiple stems growing to twelve feet tall, ten feet broad, and five inches in diameter.

     The two Serviceberries of the Four Corners area are very difficult to distinguish from each other: both have the same spreading, multi-stem growth pattern with very similar appearing flowers.  They overlap in all characteristics and habitat.  As Stanley Welsh, author of A Utah Flora indicates:

    "Segregation of all specimens in the alnifolia-utahensis complex is difficult if not impossible.  Diagnostic features show overlap, and while trends are apparent in the vast amount of material available, the best of characteristics fail singly and often in combinations as well."

    Following are a few of the supposed diagnostic features, but as Welsh observes, the best of characteristics often fail to separate the two species.

     1) Amelanchier alnifolia grows to about fifteen feet tall in the foothills; Amelanchier utahensis grows intricately branched to about six feet tall, at lower altitudes in Sagebrush and Pinyon-Juniper.  Bark on both species ranges from gray to a light purple.

     2) Flowers are very similar but in Weber's words: the "petals [of  A. alnifolia are] narrowly oblong, more than 3 times as long as wide";  the "petals [of A. utahensis are] broadly oval, not more than 3 times as long as wide".  

     3) A. alnifolia petals are, in general, about twice as long and wide as those of A. utahensis.

    4) A. alnifolia leaves are sometimes hairy but are often smooth ("glabrous") and 20-50 millimeters long; the leaves of A. utahensis are rarely smooth and usually tomentose (woolly hairy) on one or both surfaces and are 10-27 millimeters long.

    5) A. alnifolia flowers have four styles united in a column near their base;  A. utahensis flowers have two or three styles almost always separated all the way to their base.

     Ludwig Medikus (1771-1850) named this genus.   Thomas Nuttall named the first species below, "Aronia alnifolia" in 1818 and then he renamed it "Amelanchier alnifolia" in 1847.   Amelanchier utahensis was named by Bernard  Koehne (1848-1918) in 1890 from a specimen collected by Marcus Jones in Utah in 1880.

     The genus name, "Amelanchier", is the name of a French plant.  "Alnifolia" means "alder-like (Alnus) foliage" and "utahensis" means "from Utah".  

Amelanchier alnifolia
Amelanchier alnifolia (Serviceberry)
Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodlands, shrublands, canyons. Spring.
Narraguinnep Natural Area, May 28, 2004.

Amelanchier alnifolia and Amelanchier utahensis are very common shrubs of their vegetation zones.  Numerous, long, one-to-two inch diameter stems often have a purple hue.  Both species put on quite a feast for human eyes with thousands of snowy flowers on each bush, but unfortunately the flowers often have a surprisingly unpleasant smell.

Nuttall named this plant several times starting in 1818 and eventually hit on the name that stuck in 1847. The type specimen was collected in what is now North Dakota by Nuttall's friend Nathaniel Wyeth on the return portion of his 1832-1833 commercial trip across the North American continent.

Amelanchier alnifolia
Amelanchier alnifolia (Serviceberry)
Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodlands, shrublands, canyons. Spring.
Narraguinnep Natural Area, May 28, 2004.

Amelanchier alnifolia
Amelanchier alnifolia (Serviceberry)
Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodlands, shrublands, canyons. Spring.
Near Yellow Jacket Canyon, June 26, 2004.

When plump Serviceberries ripen to sweetness, they turn from green to pinks and reds to dark blue/purple.

Amelanchier utahensis
Amelanchier utahensis (Serviceberry)
Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Semi-desert, foothills, montane. Woodlands, shrublands, mesas, canyons. Spring.
Behind the Rocks, Utah, April 16, 2008.

Amelanchier utahensis is very common in many areas of the Four Corners.  A. utahensis is, as detailed at the top of this page, very similar to A. alnifolia in growth pattern, stem color, and flower, and the two plants are very difficult to tell apart.  Both bloom early in the year with a myriad of brilliant white flowers. 

Amelanchiers are members of the Rose Family and since Amelanchier utahensis grows in close proximity to Junipers (often called Cedars) it serves, unfortunately, as a host for the Apple-Cedar rust. After flowering season, Serviceberry leaves and berries commonly are orange-spotted with the Apple-Cedar rust, but when they are not, the fruit can be quite juicy and tasty.

Amelanchier utahensis
Amelanchier utahensis (Serviceberry)
Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Semi-desert, foothills, montane. Woodlands, shrublands, mesas, canyons. Spring.
Behind the Rocks, Utah, April 16, 2008.

Amelanchier utahensis
Amelanchier utahensis (Serviceberry)
Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Semi-desert, foothills, montane. Woodlands, shrublands, mesas, canyons. Spring.
Behind the Rocks, Utah, April 16, 2008.

Amelanchier utahensis (Serviceberry)
Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Semi-desert, foothills, montane. Woodlands, shrublands, mesas, canyons. Spring.
Mesa Verde National Park, Balcony House, June 11, 2001.

This Serviceberry bonsai work of art grows along the trail to Balcony House in Mesa Verde National Park and it shows how radically different plants can appear due to growing conditions.  Serviceberry is typically a tall, dense, thickly leaved, and thickly flowered shrub.  Shade and rocks have pruned this Serviceberry to its essentials.  It is quite healthy and quite beautiful but also quite unlike other Serviceberries.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Amelanchier alnifolia  

Range map for Amelanchier utahensis

WILDFLOWER HOME PAGE      SEARCH BY PLANT NAME     WHITE FLOWERS      CONTACT US