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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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May 08

An Unexpected Treat

Posted on May 8, 2015 at 8:42 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Friends started construction on their home here in Lassen County last week. Since Jack is helping with the construction, we drove up the road to see the layout before the job started.

 Profusion of serviceberry blooms
 A profusion of serviceberry blooms
As we drove along, white blossoms on pretty shrubs randomly caught my attention. I finally asked Jack to pull over so I could better identify these mysterious plants. Closer inspection revealed a leaf pattern from the rose family, but the flowers did not match what I know of roses. Clearly they were native plants, but why hadn't I noticed them before?

Ironically, that same week the Master Gardener program I am just finishing had a speaker come talk about native plants. She quickly identified these beautiful 4-to-5-feet-tall plants as western serviceberry, botanically known as Amelanchier alnifolia.

It is no surprise that western serviceberry bears fruit—edible berries that are enjoyed by wildlife and an adventurous person hiking by. Apparently the berries taste like juicy blueberries, which will be confirmed if I can get there before the birds, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, and chipmunks this June! While researching this plant, I learned the Native Americans used the fruit to make pemmican since the berries are rich in protein, calcium, and other essential nutrients.

Googling serviceberry recipes brought additional surprises. There were recipes for pies, jams, syrups, cakes, and muffins as well as directions for freezing, drying, and even adding to soups and stews. What a plant—and it is healthy!

 Serviceberry leaves
 Serviceberry leaves
The plant attracts butterflies and is a host for Lorquin's admiral and pale tiger swallowtail, which makes it that much more attractive. It can be grown as a hedgerow or used for erosion control. It grows in all types of soil and takes full sun or partial shade. Autumn finds this shrub in various shades of reds, oranges, and yellows that are sure to catch anyone's attention.

This plant is not exclusive to Lassen County. According to Calflora, multiple sightings have been reported in Marin, Sonoma, and Napa Counties. I have tried to find some downside to this plant and keep coming up empty. The real question for me is how have I missed out on this native plant all these years!

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