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Serviceberries are also called Juneberries or sarvis. There are five species in West Virginia, including three shrubs and two small trees. Serviceberries are found throughout the state, growing in fence-rows, thickets, woods, and on rocky outcrops. Identifying characteristics include oval leaves about two inches long with small, sharp teeth on the margins and gray bark with darker lines spiraling up the stem. Graceful, drooping clusters of five-petaled white flowers give off a sweet fragrance before or as the leaves unfold in April and May. The sweet, juicy fruits turn from a bright red to purplish black as they ripen from June through August. The fruits are excellent to eat plain, and for pies, jellies, or jams. Birds, squirrels, and black bears eagerly seek the ripe fruits. Serviceberries are popular landscape plants because of their dense flower clusters, yellowish-red autumn leaves, and small size.

In New England, serviceberries are called shad bush because they bloom in early spring when the shad fish move upstream to spawn. In the southern Appalachians, serviceberry is the preferred name. In pioneer days, circuit-riding preachers would hold early spring funeral services for all people who had died when deep snows prevented travel. These funeral services occurred when the serviceberry was in full bloom.

Written by William N. Grafton