Signs of Spring: More Sarvis Blooms

Our oldest sarvis bloomed first this spring. It doesn’t always, but this year it did. Yesterday, one of our younger sarvis bloomed, and I’ve seen quite a few blooming around the county. They seem to be declining in numbers, probably because people can’t identify them and cut them down. If you have some in bloom, it would be good to mark them so you can remember where they are when it comes time to trim.

The bark of the young ones looks a lot like a young maple, but they do not have leaves anything like a maple tree. The leaves are “simple, alternate, blades widest at or above middle” (Kirkman, Native Trees of the Southeast). In other words, elliptical. They’re usually small trees here, but I’ve seen a few that are quite large, perhaps a foot in diameter and 50 feet tall. They bloom before the dogwood, and have a similar flower, although much smaller than the dogwood blooms. The name “Serviceberry” or locally, “sarvis” is thought to refer to the fact that the blooms are used for altar decorations if the dogwood has not come by Easter. They are also called Downy Serviceberry. The Latin name is Amelanchier arborea.

They are easily confused with the Bradford pears, those awful, invasive things. They are so bad that North Carolina is offering a bounty on them. If you bring them a dead Bradford pear, they’ll give you a better tree, one native to North Carolina.

The Bradford pears usually bloom before the sarvis. Here’s how to identify them.

In other news, the dogwoods are starting to bloom, but it will be two to three weeks before they reach their prime. They are in the phase where the blooms are coming, but are light green. Our redbuds haven’t done much, and I don’t know yet whether it isn’t a good year for them here, or whether they are still to come. I had to go to Rome the other day, and was surprised see that the redbuds were fully out and that some dogwoods were in full bloom. There were also many sarvis in bloom along Hwy 53.

I’m 90% sure I saw the first Mourning Cloak two days ago. It had a moist appearance as it flew by, so it may have just emerged. I’ve seen them as early as February 1st here, but they seem to be becoming rare, probably due to the loss of larval habitat. The willows are their prime hosts, but there are a few others, none of them very numerous here. Here’s a photo, and – at the bottom – a list of hosts.

As a side note, I collected butterflies when I was in Junior High School. After I saw what DDT did to them – which in my area of Central Pennsylvania seemed to be to kill 90% of them – I’ve never been able to harm one again.

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