Nine-Minute Naturalist: The “Shadbush”
Filed under: Nine-Minute Naturalist
by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator
I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!
As I walked along the Pauls Creek Trail the other day, my gaze went from the hepatica and spring beauty along the forest floor to a white flowered tree just above eye level. I walked over to confirm the identification and sure enough the first Amelanchier arborea was in bloom. This tree is also known as serviceberry, shadbush, shadblow, juneberry and many other common names across its range.
This tree has acted as a measure of time or season for so many through history thus giving its common name special meaning. The name serviceberry reportedly comes from the first settlers that when this tree flowers the winter season is at an end. It meant traveling pastors could begin visiting distant parishioners and also that the ground had thawed enough to do burial services.
The name shadbush is my favorite and acts as a great reminder for me as well. When this tree is in bloom, fishermen are reminded that the shad should be coming up the rivers shortly to spawn. Upon seeing this tree, I didn’t rush to the nearest river and wet a line but instead went on the internet. One of my favorite webcams is the Shadcam on the Virginia Department of Game and Inland fisheries website. The webcam is active from late March to early June spanning the spawning season. The Shadcam can be seen here.
Not only is this tree laden with wonderful common names but it is loaded with redeeming features. This understory species grows to about 15-30ft with wonderful smooth grey striped bark. It is among the first and showiest of all flowering trees and it produces delightfully edible berries in early summer (hence the name juneberry). The berries are wonderful in a pie or eaten raw. It is very hardy and disease resistant and can tolerate a wide range of soils and light levels. The fall color is a deep red that adds lovely color to any woods or landscape.
The shadbush is without a doubt a jewel amid our biologically diverse environment. As you watch the white flowers working their way up our mountainside be reminded of the joys of spring.