One of our two sarvis trees is in bloom. I believe it started two days ago. For me, this is the most important sign of spring, because it is the first native tree to bloom. If you’re from elsewhere, you may know it as serviceberry or Juneberry. And also downy serviceberry for its “densely silver-haired leaves” (Kirkman). Sometimes shadbush. It’s Latin name is Amelanchier arborea.
It’s called serviceberry – or sarvis, in the southern Appalachians – because it used to be used for altar decorations at Easter, if the dogwoods hadn’t come yet. People confuse it with with the dogwood, but it blooms much earlier, and has a similar, but much smaller flower.
When they’re young, they have bark much like a young maple. When they are older, the bark becomes black and deeply furrowed. The leaf is oblong, completely unlike a maple.
They seem to be declining in our range. I used to look out over Dividing Ridge and see a couple dozen of them, and most, if not all, are gone. If you have them, please don’t cut them down. Any older local native should be able to recognize them easily, if you are unsure. They’re really beautiful when they bloom. The biggest one I think I’ve seen is around the corner from me, on a lot that Nathan Fitts has for sale. I’m worried that someone will unknowingly cut it down, to improve the view.
I’m not sure why they are declining. It may be the warming, because I think they are much more vigorous farther north, and the Piedmont is the southern extent of their range. I think it was Bo Eaton, the tree man, who told me that his dad said that conditions have to be perfect for them to fruit, and that they had only fruited once in the past twenty years. So they probably never were very good at reproducing, because if you don’t fruit, you don’t produce seeds.
If you’ve got them, treasure them and try to keep them safe.