Downy Serviceberry
Amelanchier arborea
Rose family (Rosaceae)

Description: This is a multi-stemmed shrub or small tree about 10-30' tall, forming an irregular crown that is usually more tall than wide. If there is a single trunk, it is 6-16" across near the base and short. Trunk bark is gray, developing shallow furrows and flat ridges on older shrubs or trees. Branch bark is smooth and gray, while twigs are some shade of brown and glabrous. Young leafy and flowering shoots are green and they are more or less covered with woolly hairs. Alternate leaves up to 4" long and 2" across occur along the shoots and young twigs. These leaves are more or less ovate in shape and finely serrated along their margins; the bases of these leaves are either rounded or slightly cordate. Young leaves are densely covered with woolly hairs, particularly along their undersides. Leaves become less hairy as they mature: At maturity, their upper sides are medium green and glabrous, while their lower sides are either sparsely covered with woolly hairs, or the hairs are largely concentrated along their central veins. The slender petioles are -1" long and light green; they are covered with woolly hairs while young, becoming more glabrous with age.

Racemes of 6-14 flowers develop at the tips of shoots; they are 3-7" long. These racemes develop a little before or at the same time as the first emergence of the leaves. Individual flowers are about 1" across, consisting of 5 white narrow petals, a short tubular calyx with 5 teeth, about 20 stamens, and a pistil with a single style. The calyx is light green with woolly hairs; its teeth are much shorter than the petals. The slender pedicels of the flowers are longer toward the base of each raceme (up to 1" long), becoming shorter toward its tip (up to " long). The blooming period occurs during mid-spring for about 1-2 weeks. The flowers are mildly fragrant. Afterwards, fertile flowers are replaced by small globoid pomes (a type of fruit) about -" across. At maturity during the summer, these pomes become reddish purple; their flesh is usually rather dry and tasteless, although sometimes it is more soft and sweet. Each pome contains 4-10 seeds that are soft-textured and very small in size. The withered remains of the calyx persist at the bottom of each pome. The root system is woody and branching. Reproduction is by seed.

The preference is full to partial sunlight and moist to dry conditions that are well-drained. Many soil types are tolerated, including those that are loamy, sandy, or rocky.

Range & Habitat: The native Downy Serviceberry is occasional throughout Illinois (see Distribution Map). It the most common species of its genus within the state. Habitats include thinly wooded bluffs, wooded slopes, exposed cliffs, rocky upland woodlands, limestone glades, banks of rivers above the flood zone, and edges of swamps. Fire may be beneficial in maintaining populations of this shrub or tree because it can resprout from the base. It can also colonize newly exposed areas because of the rapid spread of its seeds by birds. Because of its attractive flowers and fruit, Downy Serviceberry is sometimes cultivated.

Faunal Associations:
The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract honeybees, Andrenid bees (Andrena spp.), Halictid bees (Halictus spp., Lasioglossum spp.), Syrphid flies, Tachinid flies, Buprestid beetles (Acmaeodera spp.), and other insects. Other insects feed on the foliage, bore through the wood, or suck plant juices of Downy Serviceberry and other Amelanchier spp. These species include the caterpillars of the butterflies Satyrium liparops strigosum (Striped Hairstreak) and Limenitis arthemis astyanax (Red-Spotted Purple). The caterpillars of many moths also feed on these small trees or shrubs, including Lomigrapha semiclarata (Blue Spring Moth), Catocala praeclara (Chokeberry Underwing), several Acronicta spp. (Dagger Moths), and others (see Moth Table). Other insect feeders include the wood-boring larvae of several Buprestid beetles and long-horned beetles, Crepidodera violacea (a leaf beetle), Corythucha cydoniae (Hawthorn Lace Bug), larvae of the sawflies Arge clavicorne and Onycholyda luteicornis, the aphid Prociphilus corrugatans, and the psyllid Trioza obtusa. The fruits of Amelanchier spp. are an attractive source of food to the Ruffed Grouse, Hairy Woodpecker, Hermit Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Baltimore Oriole, and many other birds (see Bird Table). Some mammals also eat the fruit, including the Red Fox, Striped Skunk, Eastern Chipmunk, and White-Footed Mouse. Beavers occasionally gnaw on the bark and wood of small trees or shrubs that grow along riverbanks, while White-Tailed Deer browse on twigs and leaves.

Photographic Location:
A lawn in Urbana, Illinois.

Comments: This is one of the earliest small trees or shrubs to bloom during the spring. Downy Serviceberry is fairly easy to identify as its young leaves are exceptionally hairy (especially on their undersides). It also differs from some Amelanchier spp. by having fine teeth along its leaf margins that extend all the way to the base. The quality of the fruit is variable, although it is usually inferior to the fruit of another native species, Amelanchier laevis (Smooth Serviceberry). The hard heavy wood has been used to make tool handles in the past.