Growing Amelanchier Laevis: How To Grow The Allegheny Shadbush

The shadbushes or Juneberries are a perplexing lot to distinguish from each other, and they have been the source of much confusion and no little discomfiture among botanists.

Of the species in the group possessing outstanding ornamental value, Amelanchier laevis is easily identified, and home gardeners would do well to note the many fine characteristics of this small tree.

Beautiful Allegheny ShadbushPin

It was set apart as a distinct species. It was named Amelanchier laevis—meaning the smooth Amelanchier—by the late Professor Karl M. Wiegand of Cornell University to resolve the dual personality and ambiguous treatment of Amelanchier Canadensis in botanical records and manuals.

Allegheny Shadbush

The approved common name, Allegheny shadbush, has occasionally been applied to other species, but these are also better defined, and it is hoped that the slate can be kept in order.

Gardeners may feel this is placing a very trying requirement on the botanists responsible for plant identities and names, though it is undoubtedly a salutary one!

A Hardy and Adaptable Wild Plant

Allegheny shadbush has an extensive distribution as a wild plant.

It is native over a great portion of eastern North America—front Newfoundland diagonally across Quebec and Ontario to the vast area around the Great Lakes, through Minnesota, and southward across eastern Kansas and Oklahoma.

The range extends from Canada southward over the northeastern states through Virginia, forsaking the coast and keeping to the highlands.

It then encompasses Alabama and Mississippi, except along the southern coastal strip bordering the Gulf of Mexico, before joining the south extension in Oklahoma across the Mississippi River.

Such a dispersal suggests excellent hardiness and adaptability to many soil types and other environmental conditions.

These assumptions are reliable if one keeps in mind that the tree always grows in acid soils.

Three Distinct Characteristics For Identification

In early spring, as the young leaves of Allegheny shadbush push out on the expanding shoots, they are decidedly reddish and remain folded along the midrib for several days.

Hairless Leaves

In addition, even when expanding, the leaves are quite smooth (hence Dr. Wiegand’s name) and lack hairs.

The combination of these 3 characters furnishes completely reliable identification.

The lack of hairs on the leaves from the early stage is sufficient to separate this species from all shadbushes generally encountered except in Amelanchier, Florida, in the western part of the country.

The western species may be distinguished by its smaller leaves, rarely over 1 ½” inches in length, while Allegheny shadbush has leaves mostly more than 2″ inches long.

Varying Height

In general, specimens of this plant soon reach 10’ feet in height and then develop a well-balanced rounded crown of branches.

Old plants often surpass 20’ feet, and occasionally some reach 35’ feet, but these are primarily in woodlands where competition for light has forced growth upward.

Typically a plant has one trunk, or occasionally 2 or 3, but in the northern part of the range, the growth habit is lower and more shrub-like.

Clusters Of Graceful Blooms

The principal landscape beauty of this plant rests in its flowers which open in early spring—usually for one week in April over the southern and central portion of the range and in May for the northern section.

The flowers are about 1” inch across, with the 5 petals around the edge of a shallow greenish cup or receptacle characteristic of other members of the Rose Family and bearing strong resemblances to such cousins as:

  • Hawthorns
  • Apples
  • Cotoneasters
  • Cherries

They are borne in pendent dusters of half a dozen or more and expand as the young leaves develop.

These gracefully drooping clusters offer another trait to distinguish this shadbush from others since erect or spreading clusters are the rule in the genus.

Though the bloom is transitory, the graceful effect of the white flowers against the soft tones of the young foliage is delightful and makes a picture that long remains in mind.

The fruits that follow develop to the size of large peas and turn from green to dark purple and almost to black.

By early summer, they are sweet and palatable and so esteemed by birds that few remain long on the trees.

Fall-Blooming Allegheny Shadbushes

In the Appalachian woodlands, where they are most abundant, Allegheny shadbushes stand out spectacularly in autumn coloring.

This fall beauty is more lasting than the displays of bloom and fruits.

The foliage of most trees goes through transitions of coppery pinks and soft reds, with here and there a specimen turning rich yellow, and then the leaves are swept away in the wild gusts of October and November.

Various Allegheny Shadbushes Uses

This small tree is outstanding both in wild garden plantings and in formal ones as well.

The delicate texture and refined quality of Allegheny shadbushes throughout the year commend them also for plantings near buildings.

In this respect, they may be used in the same way as flowering dogwoods—as a feature specimen for a paved terrace or near a window or porch to furnish protection from direct sunshine in the day’s heat.

They are also to be commended to gardeners who wish to use very few distinctive and carefully selected plants around their homes instead of a whole nursery showcase mixture.

One shadbush carefully placed on a diagonal from the corner of a house can constitute the entire foundation planting at that section.

Low-Maintenance Allegheny Shadhushes

Allegheny shadhushes are easily grown and require no special care beyond the usual preparation of suitable holes with a generous supply of humus for planting and watering during dry periods for the first 2 years.

Planting in spring is preferable for all the Amelanchiers, and large specimens are best handled with a ball of soil around the roots.

They are troubled by a few severe plant pests and diseases.

Still, the usual trials of their relatives, the crabapples and hawthorns, turn to this modest group of natives occasionally, though fortunately in minor intensity.

No special attention is required in most garden plantings to keep them in good health and the front rank of favorite landscape subjects.

42727 by Ben Blackburn