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Is ‘Autumn Brilliance’ Serviceberry a Good Pollinator & Bird Plant?

Question:

I am thinking about adding the serviceberry Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ to my landscape. I realize that it is a cultivar of a naturally occurring hybrid of Amelanchier laevis & Amelanchier arborea. Will this plant be a good source for pollinators & birds?

Answer:

Our native serviceberry species provide a useful early nectar and pollen resource in April for early-emerging pollinators.  The fruit that follows in June is loved by many fruit-eating birds and humans alike.

I always prefer to use straight species plants when possible, for best genetic diversity.  Of course, straight species plants and naturally occurring hybrids can be hard to come by when searching for plants.  It’s worth shopping around to find them, though. Ask, make that “bug,” your local nurseries to offer straight species plants in lieu of cultivars.

Biodiversity is more important than ever in the face of climate change. Look for local native nurseries that take the time and trouble to grow native plants from seed. While cultivars may be readily available they are not complete ecological equivalents of straight species plants. Genetic diversity really does matter, but sometimes, the difference between a cultivar and a straight species plant can be profound.

If you can only find serviceberry cultivars, do some research to make sure that the cultivar (“nativar”) you select has an abundance of flowers and fruit.  A reader from a Wild Ones Chapter, recently shared her experience with a serviceberry cultivar –  Amelanchier canadensis ‘Glenn Form,’ an upright (fastigiate) cultivar. Having planted this cultivar as a wildlife plant, she was disappointed to discover that it produced very little fruit.  Not a good choice if you want to attract and support birds.  According the Missouri Botanical Garden, less than 10% of the flowers of this cultivar produce mature fruit.

Based on my personal observations, the branching structure of fastigiate cultivars is much less appealing to birds and other wildlife for perching and nesting.  Another reason to plant straight species plants that have evolved to deliver what wildlife needs.

Fortunately, Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ is a reliable bird plant, producing many flowers, followed by lots of tasty fruit. Not all serviceberry fruit tastes the same.  One advantage to humans of a serviceberry cultivar like ‘Autumn Brilliance’ is its reliably tasty fruit.  This may not matter to avian frugivores like Mockingbirds and Cedar waxwings, which gobble up any serviceberry fruit, but human palates can be a bit fussier.

Cultivars like ‘Autumn Brilliance’ can take the some of the guesswork out of fruit palatability to humans (but as noted, at the expense of genetic diversity). Fruit quality is also impacted by weather.  The best serviceberry fruit develops when there is sufficient sunshine and rain in the early growing season.  In spring seasons with excessive rain and limited sunshine, flowers will suffer along with the fruit.

Serviceberries provide a great way to connect children (and adults!) with the nature around them – watch the pollinators on the flowers in spring and enjoy the fruit in June – right off the tree in a bowl of cereal or perhaps cooked in a pie.

Enjoy!

From Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!