Volunteer Serviceberries

I love Serviceberries (Amelanchier canadensis), or Saskatoon Berries as they are sometimes called.  The fruit tastes wonderful and makes great pies; the flowers are white and delicately fragrant in the spring; and the leaves are a beautiful red in the fall.

This is why I decided to try and grow some Serviceberries from seed last fall, collecting seeds from two very nice specimens in my neighbourhood, and working from Henry Kock’s Growing Trees from Seed, a book I have posted about before.  This is also why I went through the painstaking process of teasing the prematurely germinated seedlings apart and planting them in my seedtable this spring.  I was able to plant a whole tray of thirty-two seedlings, and I was eagerly anticiapting my own Serviceberry grove in ten years or so.

Unfortunately, the seedtable was initially placed in my basement, and the temperature was apparently not warm enough, because every one of those thirty-two seedling withered and died in a matter of week.  I moved the seedtable upstairs immediately, but the damage had been done, and I had no recourse but to console myself with the knowledge that I could collect more seeds in the fall.

A few weeks ago, however, I noticed some strange seedlings mixed in among the yarrow that I had planted very shortly after the Serviceberries.  They were quite definately not yarrow, but they were also quite definitely not the little weeds that creep into potting soil when it is reused over time.  I decided to let them be, and it quickly became clear that they were in fact Serviceberry seedlings.  I had taken the soil in which the Serviceberry seeds had been stratifying all winter and mixed it back into my potting soil, and this discarded soil must have contained at least a few seeds that had not germinated but still could.

So now, against all hope, I have five Serviceberry seedlings.

  1. Lisa said:

    I know the feeling of disappointment and surprise. I have tried on several occasions to grow different kinds of plants from seed using seed trays. It is quite a delicate matter, for unless you have your growing lamps, the right temperature, AND humidity levels inside, your hopes for a good crop of something can quickly diminish. Sometimes I had success, but often did not. I have settled for the greenhouse trips in the spring for now. However, when Mike and I move this year, I think I may try the “from scratch” approach again.
    I look forward to hearing about your crop results.
    Lisa Onbelet

  2. Lauren said:

    Hooray for surprise serviceberries! Will they produce fruit this year or will you have to wait until next summer?

  3. Precisely how does a berry become named after a verb…

  4. Curtis,

    Interesting question. Wikipedia’s article on Serviceberries tells me this: “A widespread folk etymology states that the plant’s flowering time signaled to early American pioneers that the ground had thawed enough in spring for the burial of the winter’s dead.”

  5. Lisa,

    I have been learning as I go, and I have the following tips:

    1) Have lights that can be raised and lowered so that they are always as close to the plants as they can be. This reduces light loss and increases both heat and light efficiency.

    2) Touch your plants. Gently run your hands through them a few times every day. This helps them grow thicker and stronger stalks.

    3) Heat from below. Though I have a heat lamp also, the most effective way I have found of obtaining heat for germination is by setting the trays on one of those heating pads that you can buy in the drugstore.

    I hope that helps.

  6. Lauren,

    The seedlings, two of which have begun to look sickly since I posted this, are all of about three inches tall. They will not likely flower or bear fruit for five years or so, and they will not produce any substantial amount for ten.

    This is part of what I like about trees. They are about legacy. In a culture that is perfectly prepared each year to buy plants that will live only a few months, planting trees is a gesture of stability and continuity and patience. I hope still to be here if those trees someday fruit, but they will almost certainly be here long after I am dead and gone, and this thought pleases me very much.

  7. Aha, a berry in league with the macabre, I like ’em already!

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