There are over 20 different species of Juneberries, and they all produce more or less edible fruits –though Amelanchier alnifolia  also known as the Saskatoon or Serviceberry is certainly more desirable than others. In the wild this plant is found from Canada all the way into New Mexico. These are one of the smaller growing members of the genus, forming a deciduous shrub that seldom exceeds 8 feet in height and occasionally suckering to form a slowly spreading clump similar to a lilac.  This is one of our favorite fruiting plants. The plants are fairly tolerant to a higher ph and they will also grow well in heavy clay soils. They are very cold-hardy and will tolerate temperatures down to at least -20°f and probably much lower. The other varieties have been developed for their flowering by the nursery trade or are not very adaptable to our climate.

White flowers are produced before the plants come into leaf, and are usually produced so abundantly that the whole plant turns white.  By late June, or more commonly early to mid- July, the plants will usually be carrying large crops of fruits. These fruits are about 15mm in diameter. The fruit is soft, sweet and juicy with a taste that reminds us of blueberries crossed with apples. There are usually 2 – 5 very small seeds contained in an apple-like core at the center of the fruit. These are small enough to be eaten without problems.  The fruit can be eaten fresh or used in any way you would use blueberries- muffins, pancakes, pastries, syrups and jellies. The fruit can also be cooked in pies and when dried they are quite sweet and can be used in the same ways as raisins.  They are one of the first fruits of the season to be ripe and are somewhat susceptible to bird predation.  They start out red and change to a purple color with a white bloom or powder when fully ripe. Because they are purple when ripe birds are not as big a problem as could be the case however they will get their share if not covered with netting or some other method or exclusion.

Juneberry unripe

Juneberry unripe

High in potassium, iron and magnesium, and containing vitamins C, B6, A and E, juneberries were used by the Cheyenne as a dietary aid to treat loss of appetite in young children, and many Native American groups in North America subsisted on the dried fruit during winter months. Euell Gibbons wrote about enjoying juneberry muffins and pie in “Stalking the Wild Asparagus.” They can also be used to make a wild yeast (Like grapes and blueberries, they are lightly covered with a whitish film of yeast.)You can see why these are a favorite of ours and why we searched out the best “cultivars” or named selections to experiment with!  They are currently being grown in Canada and the northern plains as a minor commercial crop.  We did quite a bit of research to choose varieties although not a lot is published on this fruit.  The varieties we chose were Smoky, Thiessen, Northline and Regent along with unnamed generic seedlings that we put into our windbreak.  After 3 years of growing the cultivars I can say that “disappointing” is a tremendous understatement.  We had expected to harvest buckets of fruit of a good size and flavor from these “better” varieties by now but after 3 years have gotten a handful per bush at best.

Most of the named varieties have proven difficult to grow and some are hard to just keep alive. The bush size varies from 12” – 20” after 3 years of growth.  Compare this to the wild type we have planted which are from 3-4 feet tall.  Our wild ones have grown multiple stalks and some have started close suckering which provides a larger crop.  The wild type has had very little care and no fertilization versus compost and some fertilization on the expensive cultivars.

So what went wrong?  The named cultivars are usually hard to find, fairly expensive and very small bareroot plants, mostly in the 6”-12” range.  This would explain being hard to adapt the first year but after that, if still alive, they show grow on.  I think the primary reason is that they are “selections” as opposed to purposeful hybrids.  A named selection is when a plant with some outstanding feature (size of fruit, yield, bush size) is found growing amongst a plot of other similar ones.  This plant is then propagated clonally and reproduced for sale commercially.  Probably why it was the best is that its genetics were most suited for the exact spot where found as a response to climate, soil type etc. or any combination of these factors.  Two of the varieties we tested were found originally growing in Alberta, Canada and last I looked it is dissimilar to New Mexico in a variety of ways!  Possibly with major soil adaptation and afternoon shade these cultivars might respond much better.  I think the reason the wild types grow better here is the genetic variability in them.  Indeed one of the drawbacks to some people is that the wild types might vary a little in ultimate size.  Usually this doesn’t matter unless you are commercially farming them and need mechanized harvesting.

Since our goal is to provide fruiting plants that are adaptable for the average person without a lot of special care we are recommending you plant only the wild type of the species. We will continue to grow the others (and maybe more) experimentally but not offer them for sale at this time. We do offer the wild type as routine in our catalog.