Description & Overview

Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) is one of several serviceberries native to Wisconsin, found scattered throughout the state in a wide range of habitats from fencerows to sandy plains to rocky slopes. It is naturally an understory tree, thriving in full sun to part shade in a range of soil conditions.

Like other serviceberry trees, Downy Serviceberry provides four seasons of interest beginning in early spring with fragrant and pretty white flowers. Emerging leaves are covered in downy hairs that are then complemented by red to dark purple berries in June. Birds covet the nutrient-dense fruit for their sweet taste and will often pick the tree clean before the berries fully ripen! They are edible for us humans.

You may also know Downy Serviceberry as Common Serviceberry, Downy Juneberry, or Downy Shadblow.

Core Characteristics

Category: Tree

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 4

Mature Height: 15-25 feet

Mature Spread: 10-15 feet

Growth Rate: Slow

Growth Form: Typically multi-stemmed (sometimes single-stem), open, rounded

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Adaptable and prefers moist well-drained soil.

Flower: Fragrant white, five-petaled flowers that bloom before the leaves appear.

Bloom Period: April – May

Foliage: Green, oblong, pale underside. When opening, they are covered in downy hair.

Fall Color: A blend of red, orange, and gold

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: Red-purple pomes (berries), fleshy, a little drier than other serviceberries, ¼-1/3"

Suggested Uses

Adaptable to high pH soils, acidic soils, and moist or relatively dry locations in sunny or shady conditions Downy Serviceberry is versatile. That said, the sunnier the location, the more flowers and the more fruit it will produce.

Compared to other serviceberry trees such as Autumn Brilliance, Apple, Roundleaf, or Shadblow, Downy Serviceberry is of medium size, making it a nice option in smaller areas. With multiple seasons of interest and beautiful fiery shades of red, orange, and gold in fall, plant Downy Serviceberry where you can enjoy it!

They make wonderful specimen trees or when used to anchor the corner of a building. We recommend not planting them near a patio, however, as the birds that visit will make a mess and not from the berries.

Place near a birdfeeder! Not only will the berries attract birds, but the low branches also allow other wildlife to enjoy the sweet treats.

Tolerant of many conditions, Downy Serviceberry does well when planted in woodlands, near ponds, streams, or mixed into shrub borders. They also look great with an evergreen backdrop.

With similar attributes —early flowering, edible fruit, and lovely fall color—Downy Serviceberry is an excellent native option instead of the invasive Callery pear.

Downy Serviceberry could be a nice street tree when grown as a single trunk provided the lower branches are properly pruned up to provide adequate clearance.

Wildlife Value

Downy Serviceberry is truly a bird magnet and a must-have in any bird garden. At least 40 species eat the fruit including Cedar Waxwings, Ruffed Grouse, Robins, Thrushes, Woodpeckers, Veerys, Warblers, Towhees, Baltimore Orioles, Mourning Doves, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Flicker, and Cardinals. The fine branching habit allows for excellent nesting sites for cardinals and robins.

Amelanchier arborea is a host plant for the Small-eyed Sphinx moth (Paonias myops), Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis), Serviceberry leafroller moth (Olethreutes appendiceum), Striped Hairstreak (Satyrium liparops), White-spotted Hedya (Hedya chionosema), and Bluish Spring Moth (Lomographa semiclarata).

Mammals also enjoy the berries, including deer, chipmunks, squirrels, bears, and deer mice. Deer will not only nibble on the berries, but the twigs, leaves, and buds, too.

Nectar and pollen are retrieved by honeybees, Andrenid bees (Andrena spp.), Halictid bees (Lassioglossum, Halictus spp.), Syrphid flies, Tachinid flies, and Buprestid beetles (Acmaeodera spp.) Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)

Other insects will feed on plant sap, wood, foliage, etc., include weevils, long-horned beetles, gall fly larvae, aphids, armored scales, sawfly larvae, and Unspotted Tentiform Leafminer Moth (Parornix geminatella).

Maintenance Tips

Remove any suckers to help focus growth upwards.

A decent mulch ring will help retain soil moisture and protect the roots through winter, reducing stress on the tree.

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: No
Deer Resistant: No
Rabbit Resistant: No

Gypsy moth larvae feed selectively on Downy Serviceberry. Unfortunately, Gypsy Moth isn’t going away and the best we can do is make sure they don’t spread. If you suspect this pest has moved into your tree, we suggest you contact a certified arborist to determine the next steps.

Fire blight may be of concern in cooler, wetter springs. Down Serviceberry may be affected by leaf spot, leaf blight, powdery mildew, cedar serviceberry rust, fruit rot, leaf miners, borers, and pear blister. These are mostly cosmetic issues. The best prevention is taking appropriate care of your trees through proper watering, fertilization, and pruning. A happy tree is a healthy tree!

Leaf Lore

The genus Amelanchier is a French provincial name for Amelanchier ovalis which is a European plant in this genus. The specific epithet arborea means “growing in a tree-like form.”

Serviceberry is also called “sarvis berry” for its resemblance to the service “a forgotten English fruit rather like a pear which was eaten overripe like a medlar”  However, there is some dispute to this as many sources also proclaim that Serviceberry is a name that evolved from ‘Sorbusberry,’ with berries like a Sorbus (Mountain Ash).

The wood of serviceberry is hard and heavy and has been used to make tool handles and fishing rods.

Downy Serviceberry can naturally hybridize with Allegheny Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) if they are in proximity to one another. The fruit from this cross is said to be juicier and superior to that of Downy Serviceberry.

Indigenous people historically used Downy Serviceberry in myriad ways. The Cherokee used a compound infusion to treat diarrhea and worms while the Iroquois used the fruit as a blood remedy and gynecological aid. Its greatest use seemed to have been using the fruit as food, either raw or dried in soups, stews, and with meat.

With a sugar content of 20 percent, serviceberries are sweeter than raspberries and blueberries and are a superfood full of nutrients and antioxidants. Red serviceberries aren’t quite ripe-wait until they ripen to a dark, purple-blue and enjoy them fresh right off the tree. They are delicious much the same way you would use blueberries: jam, pies, sweetbreads, muffins, jellies, pudding, syrup, fruit leather, smoothies, and on ice cream!

Companion Plants

Combine with other smaller scale trees such as Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Corneliancherry Dogwood (Cornus mas), Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), Seven Son Flower (Heptacodium miconioides), Mountain Maple (Acer spicatum), Musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana), Prairie Crabapple (Malus ioensis), Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana), and Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana).

For a bird-feeding garden, plant Downy Serviceberry with Glossy Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa var. elata), Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina), American Black Currant (Ribes americanum), Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida), Compassplant (Silphium laciniatum), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Showy Blazingstar (Liatris ligulistylis), Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica), Canadian Yew (Taxus canadensis), Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylem americanum), Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa), and Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium).

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Written by Beth DeLain