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Flowering Shadbush

from dmott9, Flickr Creative Commons

In April, forest trees leaf-out casting shade. When buds open, most tree flowers bloom inconspicuously. But some rural roadsides and pasture edges are accentuated by the stunning white full bloom of a small native tree whose Latin scientific name is Amelanchier arborea. 

It has several colorful common names including "Flowering Shad" or "Shadbush" or "Serviceberry" and "June Berry." The small shrubby tree forms a vase-like clump of smooth gray-barked stems which blossom when the leaves are half grown.  Gardeners plant Shadbush as a popular, native ornamental landscape specimen.

June Berry fruits are not tasty for humans, yet wild birds and mammals seek them avidly when few other fruits are available in June. "June Berry" refers to its high-carbohydrate fruit available to wildlife, particularly to birds, during their busy nesting season and as fledglings disperse.

The "Shad" reference is from the historical era when immense schools of migratory shad fish returned in April to New England rivers, just as the "Shadbush" bloomed.  The lore behind "Serviceberry" holds that traditional 19th century funerals would commence in April once soil had thawed sufficiently to dig graves to hold services for those who died during the long New England winter. Graveside services were brightened by flowering "Serviceberry" blossoming outside Colonial era stonewall-bound burial grounds.

One naturalist suggests this native tree has so many different names because people in New England appreciate the beauty of the earliest flowers so much more at winter's end!

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for over 30 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation-related outreach education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners, and the general public.

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