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Juneberry offers a spring attraction

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A new regional attraction has recently opened, and for the next couple of weeks you can view the “show” at many open-air venues near you. The performance is free, although only matinees are available.

Variously known as serviceberry, shadbush, shadwood, shadblow, Saskatoon, juneberry and wild-plum, this small-to-medium size native tree also answers to Amelanchier Canadensis, its botanical name. Of those options, I prefer juneberry even though its fruit usually ripens in early July in Northern New York.

It’s the first woody plant to flower, and its white blossoms can be seen on roadsides, in fencerows and on forest edges throughout our area right now. It has smooth, gray-silver bark that is attractive in its own right. Depending on conditions, juneberries may grow as a multi-stem clump, but more often develop as single-trunk trees reaching 25 to 40 feet tall. Not only are its early blossoms an aesthetic treat, they’re advertising the location of a source of berries that boast more nutrient value than almost any other native fruit.

Juneberries are often overlooked as a food source, partly because birds may beat us to the punch, and partly because juneberries grow tall enough that the fruit is sometimes out of reach. Because juneberries have less moisture than blueberries, they’re slightly higher in protein and carbohydrates, making them a great food for athletes and other active people.

These soft, dark purple berries have twice as much potassium as blueberries in addition to large amounts of magnesium and phosphorous. They’re a good source of iron, too, having almost twice as much as blueberries. Juneberries also have plenty of vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6, vitamin A and vitamin E.

Juneberries make an attractive landscape plant, and can be used to attract birds. Amelanchier alnifolia, a species closely related to our native A. canadensis, is better for home use, as it does not grow as tall, and the fruit will always be within reach. They can tolerate a wide range of site conditions and will thrive even in poor soils. They do require full sun, however. Another plus is that juneberry leaves turn a remarkable salmon-pink in the fall, making them even more desirable as a landscape shrub.

Native peoples across much of North America valued juneberries, and European settlers followed their example. This is a great time to make note of the location of juneberry plants so you too can take advantage of this under-appreciated wild fruit. For more juicy juneberry tidbits from Cornell, visit www.juneberries.org.

Paul Hetzler is a horticultural and natural resource educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County.

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