Saturday, August 18, 2012

Summer's Berry Bounty

"We feasted sumptuously on our wild fruits, particularly the yellow currant
and the deep perple serviceberries, which I found to be excellent."  
(Meriwether Lewis, August 2nd, 1805) 

Cedar Waxwing and purple serviceberries (c) John Ashley
Cedar Waxwing and purple serviceberries
The summer berry crops are ripening up, and some of our native birds are fattening up. Here, a Cedar Waxwing gulps down a plump, purple serviceberry (Amelanchier alnilfolia is the most common of our three species).

Or depending on where you live and who raised you, you might call them Juneberries (eastern Montana), Saskatoons (Canadian Rockies), shadberry (northeastern US), sarvisberry (Wyoming), or simply pomes (boring botanists).

Call it what you will, but it is one of our most sought-after berries by people and animals alike.

Native Americans used serviceberries as an ingredient in pemmican, and some tribes also dried and pounded them into fruit patties weighing 10-15 pounds each. Lewis and Clark reported their encounter with sweet serviceberries more than 200 years ago, from somewhere near the current town of Whitehall.

If you're so inclined, pick some soon because the competition is everywhere. Bears and birds both savor the ripe summer serviceberries, while the stems and leaves are eaten by elk, deer, moose and bighorn sheep.