Serviceberry varieties – which make the best flowers, fruit (and the best for small and large spaces)


Amelanchier serviceberry

Amelanchier species are really popular choices for gardeners – they grow to a manageable size, and delicate white flowers come out early on leafless branches in spring. Its tasty berries, similar to blueberries can be made into jellies and pies.

The trouble is that there are so many species (around 30 in all) with an incredibly confusing name system. How is one expected to tell the difference? And if you’re planting, which should you choose?

I’ve been experienced with serviceberries for some years, having a soft spot for this flowering tree. I’ve done some additional research and looked and even been through the scientific literature to establish the consensus on which serviceberry is best for fruit, for flowers, for foliage and for the kind of size of tree you need.

Serviceberry species and their many names

For starters, its almost impossible to get taxonomists to agree on what we call these trees – they have so many names! Here’s a breakdown of the names of the serviceberries that you’re likely to be choosing from.

Serviceberry speciesKnown asCommon varieties
Amelanchier canadensisShadblow serviceberry, Canadian serviceberry, chuckle-berry‘Prince William, ‘Micropeleta’, ‘Spring Glory’, ‘Tradition’, ‘Rainbow Pillar’
Amelanchier lamarckiiJuneberry, shadbush 
Amelanchier alnifoliaSaskatoon, Western or Pacific serviceberry‘Regent’, ‘Obelisk’ aka ‘Standing Ovation’
Amelanchier arboreaDowny or common serviceberry‘Robin Hill’
Amelanchier laevisAllegheny serviceberry.  Smooth juneberry, smooth shadbush‘Snowflakes’
Amelanchier ovalisSnowy mespilus, savoy medlar, garden serviceberry‘Edelweiss’, ‘Helvetica’
Amelanchier × grandiflora (hybrid of A. laevis and A. arborea)Apple serviceberry, Amelanchier grandiflora Rehder‘Autumn Brilliance’, ‘Ballerina’
Common names for amelanchier species

However I’ve found that these names are often used a bit interchangeably by landscapers, nursery owners… and pretty much everybody. You will often find the word ‘serviceberry’ being used interchangeably with ‘juneberry’, and the word ‘shadbush’ is also thrown around. ‘Servicetree’ is sometimes uses as shorthand for serviceberry as well.

So it’s best to go by species name as far as possible so you don’t end up with a totally wrong tree for you. Some of the serviceberry trees are very small shrubs, while others are 40-foot trees!

First a few basics that the species have in common….

What are serviceberry leaves like?

Serviceberry leaves are small and elliptical, downy underneath and with toothed (serrated) edges.

Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon serviceberry) leaf
Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon serviceberry) leaf

What are serviceberry flowers like?

Serviceberry flowers are almost always white, but they may start off with a pink hue when they first emerge. They have five petals and long, delicate stamens. They emerge in early spring and often fall off at the first heavy gust of wind.

Serviceberry amelanchier flowers petals
Serviceberry blossoms

What are serviceberry fruits like?

Serviceberry berries (strictly termed pomes), are red-purple and 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch in diameter. They’re ripening in June, usually – hence ‘Juneberry’! Sweet tasting, they can also have a lovely almond flavor.

They’re often compared to blueberries.

Amelanchier ovalis berries
Amelanchier ovalis berries

The pros and cons of growing serviceberry trees

Serviceberries are tolerant of most soil types, and can grow in partial shade, unlike many other small trees that need full sun. They have delightfully delicate flowers, and produce fruit reliably. Serviceberries can be made into jellies and jams, and baked into pies – yum. They’re great for attracting butterflies and birds (in fact, birds often get to the berries before you do).

On the other hand, they do flower for a pretty short time – if it’s windy, it can be as little as a week.

In my view though, it’s worth it! Cherry trees (a main competitor in the small flowering tree stakes) flower for quite a short time as well.

I think Amelanchier have a ‘wild’ appearance, so look particularly great if you’re going for an informal, countryside look.

By the way, this page contains affiliate links to the two biggest and most reliable online nurseries that both sell a range of serviceberries. I hope the affiliate links will be helpful – I’ll also get a small commission if you buy (at no extra cost to yourself) which would really support my site!

Best serviceberry tree for flowers

Amelanchier × grandiflora (a hybrid of A. laevis and A. arborea) tends to have the showiest flower displays, and are particularly chosen for this purpose. You can get them online here or here. The cultivar ‘Ballerina’ is particularly flowery.

Almost all serviceberry flowers are white, but if you want something a little different, I enjoy Amelanchier Arborea ‘Robin Hill’, which have a pinkish tinge, particularly when they come out.

Amelanchier arborea Robin Hill
Amelanchier arborea ‘Robin Hill’

Best serviceberry tree for berries

I think it’s been widely accepted for some time that Amelanchier alnifolia (Saktatoon serviceberry) is best for berries, being abundant and more tasty than the other species.

Fortunately, this species comes in a few interesting cultivars as well, such as the columnar-shaped ‘Obelisk’ aka ‘Standing Ovation’ (for sale here) which looks particularly beautiful on a lawn, while Naturehills sells a popular one called ‘Regent’.

Best serviceberry tree for fall color

This is an important consideration if you ask me, because few things bring me more joy than the fall color of my trees. The best to go for here are:

Of the two, ‘Autumn Brilliance’ is my favourite, because the flowers are more abundant in springtime and the autumn color is a deep scarlet. ‘Autumn Brilliance’ usually grows larger (up to 25 feet, while ‘Spring Glory’ gets to about half that height), but 25 feet is a good size for almost any small garden – it’s the height of around two storys.

Best serviceberry tree for small gardens

If space is limited, you can still have a serviceberry and everything that comes with it. Just select your cultivar carefully. Normally, Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’ (aka ‘Standing Ovation’, available here) is a solid choice, because it grows 12-15 feet tall but only 3-4 feet wide. There are few small fruiting trees that grow in such a compact form, and being of the alnifolia species, it produces some of the best berries as well.

If you’d like something a little bigger than that, consider Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ which grows to about 20-25 feet in height and up to 20 feet diameter. That’s about 2 storys tall and two driveways wide.

Best serviceberry tree for large spaces

The tallest serviceberry tree that’s available is probably Amelanchier laevis; if conditions are good it can reach 40 feet (4 stories) or more in height. It’s still relatively narrow though – about 10 feet wide maximum. I’ve found, though, that few reach this size, and it usually doesn’t get far past 20 feet tall.

Amelanchier laevis tallest serviceberry
Amelanchier laevis is a great choice if you’re looking for a spreading ‘tree’ form of serviceberry

Best serviceberry tree for hedging

Serviceberry is an underutilized choice for hedging, but a great one – it’s good for privacy, not hard to grow, fairly disease-free and produces attractive flowers and fruit. I’d recommend Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’, aka ‘Standing Ovation’ (available here at Naturehills). I’d plant them 3 feet apart (Naturehills recommends 2 and a half feet apart).

Best serviceberry tree for shade

Amelanchier x grandiflora serviceberry is more shade-tolerant than other amelanchier species, which usually do best in full sun. It actually seems to benefit from a little shade, so it’s a good option if your site doesn’t face the sun.

Most hardy serviceberry

Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’ and Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’ will both grow anywhere down to USDA hardiness zone 2, which is particularly hardy for serviceberry. Most serviceberries will grow practically all over the US, for example. Here’s a link so you can check your hardiness zone on the USDA website.

Best serviceberry for wet soil

In general, Amelanchier laevis (Allegheny serviceberry) is said to be the best serviceberry tree for damp soil, reflecting its natural habitat. It looks great beside a small pond or river, seeming to thrive in the damp.

Allegheny Serviceberry
Allegheny serviceberry growing happily next to water

Image attributions:

Globetrotter19, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Dominicus Johannes Bergsma, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Katrin Schneider, korina.info – CC-BY-SA-4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I.Sáček, senior, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Dan Keck from Ohio, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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