Latin Name: Amelanchier alnifolia

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Coleen Felker

Cultural Ecosystems

Fall 2000

Family: Rosaceae (Rose)

Latin Name: Amelanchier alnifolia

Common Names: Juneberry, Shadbush, Sugarplum, Sugarpear, Sand cherry, Indian pear, Saskatoonberry, Serviceberry
Native American Names:

Chehalis k’wala’stam, berries

Klallam tcetci’nte

Lummi s’tct’tsen

Samish steitcsan, name of the wood of this plant Skagit qwtla’stap

Snohomish klola’stabats

Swinomish qula’stabats, name of the wood of this plant

Blackfoot ok-kun-okin (berry)

Cheyenne he-tan-i-mins (male berry)

Lakota wipanzutkan (thing used to crack bones)

Plains Cree musaskwatonina

Assiniboin we-pah-zoo-kah

Omaha zhon-huda (gray wood)

Related Species: Amelanchier utahensis, Amelanchier camadensis, Amelanchier florida
Botanical Description:

Growth Form-Shrub to small tree

Size-1-5 meters tall, or occasionally more.

Leaves-Alternate, deciduous, thin, round to oval, regularly toothed, mostly on top half of leaf (5:72). Leaves are longitudinally folded at flowering, lower surfaces with yellowish hairs, margins toothed mostly above middle (3:28).

Flowers-White, large( 1-2.5 cm across) 5 petals, 15-20 stamins, showy; in short drooping to erect, leafy clusters of 3-20.( 5:72). Flowers in elongated groups of 3-20, from late Apr to May; petals 5, separate, egg-shaped to spoon shaped, 6-8 mm long, white to pinkish (3:28).

Fruit-Fruit apple-like, but only 3/8”to 5/8” diameter, purple-red to black when ripe. (2:230). Fruits fleshy, round, 8-11 mm, dark purple, sweet, and juicy, ripening June through August (3:28). Dull-red at first, becoming purple to nearly black, berry-like pomes (like miniature apples), with a white bloom; edible, sweet. (5:72).

Bark-dark-grey to reddish; often spreads by rhizomes or rooting branch ends and forms dense colonies (5:72). Thin, light brown and tinged with red; smooth or shallowly fissured (8:162).

Twigs-Slender, smooth; reddish-brown when young, becoming grayish-brown; buds about ½” long with dark reddish-brown imbricated scales that are hairy along the margins (8:162).
Habitat: Rocky shorelines, bluffs, talus slopes, meadows, thickets and forest edges; dry to moist open forest; roadsides; in well-drained soils. Scattered at low to middle elevations (5:72). The serviceberries generally prefer open country, rocky or gravelly areas such as slopes or banks, and edges of woods and swamps. In the south, the fruit can be harvested as early as May, but farther north you have to wait until mid-to late summer (4:136).
Range: Serviceberries range from Nebraska west to Oregon and western Canada. Locally abundant in the Rocky Mountains (2:230). Southern Alaska to northwestern California, and eastward throughout the Rocky Mountains (7:162).
Native Where: The Pacific coast from southern Alaska to northwestern California. Rocky Mountains east to Nebraska, abundant in the northern prairies; Almenchier laevis is common in northern and southwestern New Jersey(4:174).


Indigenous Use/Significance/Relationships:
Food – The most common use of the serviceberry by the Blackfoot was for pemmican, which was made from a mixture of animal fat, dried meat, and the crushed berries. For a sausagelike food, serviceberries were mashed along with an equal amount of fat and stuffed into an animal intestine, which was tied at both ends and boiled. A favorite dessert at Blackfoot feasts was soup made from buffalo fat and berries mixed with buffalo blood. Serviceberry leaves were also used. They were crushed and mixed with blood, then dried and used to make a rich broth in winter (7:29). Saskatoon berries were highly regarded by all groups, especially in the Interior, and they were dried into cakes for storage. The Haida called them “sweet berries.”(5:72). Serviceberries contain more than three times the amount of iron and copper in the same weight of raisins (3:32).

The Swinomish eat the fruit fresh and dry it for winter use, as do the Chehalis, who use the dried berries as seasoning in soup or with meats. The Lummi dry the berries and boil them in winter with dog salmon at feasts.(1:38)

Medicine – A tea made from the leaves was used by the Cheyenne as a beverage and a medicine. It was red in color and reportedly had a flat taste like green tea (1:30).

Native Americans used serviceberry bark infusion as a bath. The infusion was given to children for worms and was taken to prevent abortion after injury (6:175). An eye wash was made from the boiled green inner bark (7:21).

Materials/Technology – In the interior saskatoon wood was commonly used for arrows, digging sticks, and drying racks (7:72). The Snohomish use the wood of this plant for discs for slahalem, one of local gambling games. These discs are about the diameter of a silver dollar, and twice as thick. The Samish and Swinomish exploit the toughness of this wood in using it as the spreader, in the rigging of the halibut line. Even

A large halibut could not break this(1:38).

Other – No information found.

Non-Indigenous Use/Relationships:
Medicine – No information found.
Materials/Technology – No information found.
Food – Europeans made pies and puddings from the berries, always leaving in seeds as they added to the flavor (7:21). J.W. Blankenship reported n “Native Economic Plants of Montana”(1905, p.6) that serviceberries are found frequently in our markets during the season and are used for pies, much as the blueberries are used in the East, they are usually mixed with currants, gooseberries or rhubarb, to lend acidity to the combination. They are also put up spiced, are used for wine and made into jam with other fruits (3:32).
Other – The serviceberry is one of the most ornamental native woody plants when it is densely covered with snowy white flowers. It blooms in early spring, while other trees and shrubs are still leafless. It should be planted for its beauty as well as for the fruits, which benefit both man and wildlife. Serviceberry has been suggested as a possible new commercial fruit crop for Canada (3:32). Saskatoon provides important winter browse for unglates(such as moose, deer and elk), and many wild bird species feast on the berries in August (5:72).
Ecological Relationships: All varieties generally form pure thickets, or commonly associated with aspen, chokecherry, bitter cherry, western crab apple, and manzanita (8:162).
Harvesting: Because of great importance of the serviceberry as a food source, the Blackfoot, moved their midsummer camp to location where it could easily be harvested. The women and children beat the bushes with sticks, causing the berries to fall on robes or blnket that had been spread out on the ground (3:29). The Stl’atl’imx practised burning to encourage stands of saskatoon (5:72).

References Cited:

  1. Gunther, Erna. Ethnobotany of Western Washington. Seventh edition. Seattle and London: The University of Washington Press, 1945.

  1. Harrington, Harold, David. Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains. Albuquerque, New Mexico: The University of New Mexico Press, 1972.

  1. Kindscher, Kelly. Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1987.

  1. Knap, Alyson, Hart. Wild Harvest: an outdoorsman’s guide to edible wild plants in North America. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Pagurian Press Limited, 1975.

  1. Mackinnon, Andy, and Jim Pojar. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Vancouver, British Columbia: Ministry of Forests and Lone Pine Publishing, 1994.

  1. Still, Cecil, C. Botany and Healing. New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London: Rutgers University Press, 1998.

  1. Sweet, Muriel. Common Edible and Useful Plants of the West. Healdsburg, California: Naturegraph Company, 1962.

  1. Randall, Warren R. et. all. Manual of Oregon Trees and Shrubs. Corvallis, Oregon: John Bell and Associates, 1998.

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