Amelanchier - Spring-flowering Shrubs for Multiple Uses
If you are not familiar with this genus, let me give you some details. There are about 25 species of Amelanchier worldwide along with many hybrids. The vast majority of species hail from North America (17 species). They are members of the rose family, Rosaceae. Most develop into large multi-stemmed shrubs but a few produce fewer stems and can become more tree-like, albeit, relatively small in stature. In early spring, just as the leaves emerge, the plants produce small sprays of pure-white, 5-petalled flowers. These later develop into purplish-black berries which, in many species, are quite sweet and juicy. Spring foliage may emerge bronzy on some species while others have fuzzy-white foliage. All become smooth and green in summer but then adopt wonderful shades of yellow, orange and red in the autumn. The leaves are relatively small (2-6 cm) and oval in outline. Their bark is smooth and grey, often with a slight pinkish tint. The overall habit is upright, not wide-spreading and the shade provided by the taller species is dappled.
Amelanchier stolonifera growing in the wild and close-up of the blooms from A. bartramiana
The uses of Amelanchier in the landscape are varied. They may be used in wildlife gardens as their berries are very attractive to fruit-eating birds. They blend beautifully in shrub borders and may even be used as stand-alone lawn specimens. Several new cultivars have been developed specifically for their heavy fruit production, especially the species A. alnifolia, known on the prairies as Saskatoon berry. The berries of this species are harvested to make jams, jellies and syrup, lending this species use in the fruit garden.
The ripe fruit of A. bartramiana and the ripening fruit of A. alnifolia
Most Amelanchier naturally hail from areas with acidic soil that is reasonably moist. If you live in an area with alkaline soil, the best species to try would include A. alnifolia, A. asiatica and A. ovalis. In dry areas, A. alnifolia, A. humilis, A. ovalis, A. sanguinea and A. utahensis are your best bet. They may be used in full sun or part shade but the best fall colour is found on plants growing under full sun conditions.
Hardiness varies depending on the species. The vast majority are perfectly fine in zone 5-8. The hardiest species is A. alnifolia which is native in areas as cold as zone 2. Heights are also variable. As mentioned, most form large, multi-stemmed shrubs which may reach 2 to 6m. Saskatoons normally top at about 4m. The tallest species are A. arborea (to 20m), A. asiatica (12 m), A. laevis (13 m) and A. lamarckii (10 m) and these are often trained to only a few stems and become small trees. These are ideal for providing dappled shade for woodland flowers like trillium, hepatica, bloodroot and various ferns.
Propagation is variable. Suckering species like A. stolonifera and A. sanguinea, may be divided or layered. Most are propagated by softwood cuttings taken a few weeks after flowering or from tissue-culture micropropagation. Fresh seed will germinate readily while older seed will require a winter stratification period before germination will commence. Named cultivars, however, will not come true from seed.
Like so many members of the rose family, Amelanchier are prone to several insect pests which will require appropriate controls. The fruit may be attacked by a rust disease which can cause them to become hard, covered in orange pustules and inedible. They are also attacked by fireblight in regions where this disease is a problem. Improper air circulation may result in mildew or leaf spot.
Flowers from A. stolonifera and A. laevis
This genus has not been as high-bred as many other flowering shrubs. Perhaps it is the rather short flowering season and the fact that plants produce white flowers only, that has caused this limited hybridizing. Here are some of the more popular named selections. ‘Glennform' (aka ‘Rainbow Pillar') has a narrow, upright form to 6 m which lends the plant uses in informal hedging and screening. ‘Sprizam' (aka ‘Spring Glory') has a compact habit and notable fall colour. ‘Trazam' (aka ‘Tradition') is one of the best for training as a single-stemmed small tree as it will top at 12 m. The best fall colour comes from ‘Autumn Brilliance', ‘Ballerina' and ‘Princess Diana'. This latter selection is also very resistant to fungal leaf spotting. ‘Lustre' and ‘Cole's Select' are notable for their shiny summer foliage.
By far, the vast majority of named selections have been made based on fruit production among A. alnifolia. There are well over 25 named selections which differ in heights, blooming and ripening season, berry size and flavour. Early-season selections include ‘Honeywood', ‘Martin' and ‘Northline'. For late season berries try ‘Nelson' or ‘Forestburg'. For the largest fruit, you could try ‘Lee #8' or ‘Theissen'. Among the best tasting is ‘Smoky', the standard to which all new selections are compared. If space is limited, the 1.7 m high ‘Nelson' is your best bet. These are just a few of the suggested selections; there are many more. Best to check with your local nursery to see which Amelanchier they have to offer.
Discussion about this article: