Amelanchier alnifolia or the common Saskatoon berry is one of the most useful yet highly underrated twig producing shrubs.
Native to all provinces in Canada and growing in very challenging conditions and highly adapted to many climates, this ubiquitous plant has many uses, as well as being incredibly beautiful in bloom and out.
The flowers in early spring give rise to one of the many common names this shrub goes by – shad blow.
This strange name was given to it by pioneers for its habit of just finishing its bloom at the same time that shad, a type of fish, made their way into creeks and streams for spawning.
When you see the Amelanchier bloom, you can be fairly certain that the weather is settled and warm enough for planting your vegetables, as once the blooms are open and the bees visiting, it can be disastrous if there are frosts after this time.
Through the warm summer months, the fruit ripens to a dark blue colour.
The berries are a bit seedy, and taste a little like blueberries with a piquant edge.
Beloved by bears, birds and humans alike, these shrubs will bend over with the weight of their fruit crop in a good year.
Luckily, one of its other attributes is very strong fine grained wood.
Even though it may get to the size of a small understory tree, in most cases it remains a fairly well behaved shrub, especially in full sun.
The wood doesn’t get very big, so what use is it?
I use Amelanchier twigs and branches for many twig crafts, and I love its satiny soft grain and resilience – perfect for buttons, tool handles, twig handles and twig walking sticks. Although not completely straight, the gracefully curved and gnarled shape makes a unique and rustic stick for the avid walker.
It also has the ability to grow many new suckers from the base if pruned hard or coppiced, replenishing its growth for future use in crafts, and as a berry producing shrub.
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