Amelanchier alnifolia

Common name: serviceberry or saskatoon berry

Scientific name: Amelanchier alnifolia

Native American name: Chcháya[1] (Yakama Ichishkíin)

Plant family: Rosaceae

 

Description:  A. alnifolia is a large shrub that varies between 1-5 meters in height. It features a smooth, dark colored stem. Its branches are thin, and display small leaves, which are deciduous. These leaves are round to oval shaped, and are toothed along the top two thirds. This plant has perfect white flowers which are 1-3 cm across and feature 5 petals.[2] Cross pollination does occur occasionally by insect or wind. However, self-pollination is the main method of reproduction.[4] Flowers appear during springtime, before the onset of leaves. Fruit develop in early to mid-summer and are considered especially delicious.[3] Berries are small and darken from red to almost black.  A. alnifolia spreads by rhizome and by branches capable of developing rooting ends. Shoots are also able to grow into new plants.[4]

Habitat and Range: A. alnifolia grows along the edges of forests as well as in open forests. It also grows in meadows and clearings, as well as along rocky shores.[2] A. alnifolia also grows along the banks of streams, and prefers well-drained and moist soil and does not grow well in deep shade.[4] It is common to sprout after disturbances in woodland habitat, such as fire, beetle destruction etc.[5] A. alnifolia grows in areas of low to moderate elevation; from close to sea level to subalpine range.[6] Amelanchier alnifolia is widely distributed across the United States, although several varieties, including var. humptulipensis and var. semiintegrifolia, are found only in the Pacific Northwest.[7]

Historical and Contemporary Uses

A. alnifolia has a long history of use by native peoples throughout the Pacific Northwest. Its berries are gathered extensively by indigenous groups. They are eaten both fresh and preserved. Berries are preserved by being dried either whole, or dried and cooked into cakes. When dried whole, berries become raisin-like. When dried and cooked into cakes, the berries are able to be stored through the winter, which historically allowed native people to sustain themselves in the winter season, and during scarce times.


[1] Beavert, Virginia and Sharon Hargus. Ichishkíin Sínwit Yakama/Yakima Sahaptin Dictionary. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2009.

[2] Pojar, Jim and Andy MacKinnon. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Vancouver, B.C.: Lone Pine Publishing, 1994. P. 73.

[3] Plants for a Future database. Plant Profile Amelanchier alnifolia – (Nutt.)Nutt. ex M.Roem.

Accessed via: http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Amelanchier+alnifolia.

[4] USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service. Plant Profile AMALS. Accessed via: http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_amals.pdf

[5] Royal Roads University. Non Timber Quality Codes. Accessed via: http://cle.royalroads.ca/files-cntr/Saskatoon_Berry_Amelanchier_alnifolia.pdf

[6] USDA   Natural Resource Conservation Service. Plant Profile AMAL2. Accessed via: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=AMAL2

[7] USDA NRCS Plant Profile AMALA. Accessed via: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=AMELA