Serviceberries at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

All summer, we’ve feasted on local strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries–all done, now.

But as we walk our land, we see a huge store of berries still available for our birds, bears, chipmunks, and other creatures.

One of the most beautiful berry bushes at this time of the year is the native serviceberry, also known as shadbush or Juneberry (Amelanchier). Those odd names go back to colonial times, to human events tied to the cycles of nature.

“Serviceberry” trees unfold clouds of white blossoms just at the time when circuit preachers, immobilized by winter, could again visit the villages to lead worship services and funerals to bury the dead, who had been in storage all winter, awaiting the thaw, so graves could be dug.

The “shadbush” blossoms also herald the return of the immense schools of shad in New England rivers, swimming up from the ocean to spawn–or to fall into the nets of native Americans and colonialists.

Serviceberries don’t just signal food, they ARE food. Eat serviceberries raw or use them for muffins, pies, jellies, or wine. Make a syrup to pour on your pancakes or–says one source–to mix with vodka and soda.

For birds, though, serviceberries are not a fun syrup, but a main course to fuel a migration or a long winter of survival on our land. More than forty species of birds eat the berries of this native bush, with which they co-evolved over centuries.

Nowadays ,invasive alien berries compete with our natives. Buckthorn berries give birds diarrhea, weakening them just when they need to be strong. Invasive honeysuckle berries provide nutrition, but when birds spread the seeds, they sow their own destruction, because honeysuckle crowds out the native plants that support the insects and the nesting cover that our birds need.

So this summer, we removed thousands of invasive shrubs from our land, protecting the serviceberries, chokeberries, elderberries, nannyberries–all the native berries that now hang so thickly at the edges of our forests and fields, signaling another winter of good eating for the creatures that share our Lathrop land.


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