Sunday spotlight: Saskatoon.

The Elbow River at Weaselhead Natural Area, Calgary

My hubby and I went for a really, really, REALLY long walk in the Weaselhead Natural Environment Area in southwest Calgary last Monday.  While I admit, I was the one who suggested that we take a right turn when we ought to have taken a left, it was such a splendidly warm day and the Weaselhead is so wonderful to explore, that our lengthy detour didn’t matter.  The Elbow River lazily runs through the park en route to the Glenmore Reservoir, and apparently forms large mud flats which canoeists ply in the heat of summer.  At this time of year, the river is comparatively high, pooling in the backwaters, unburdened with heavy silt.

Drifts of golden buffalo beans (Thermopsis rhombifolia) and wild violets (Viola adunca) marked our route, but I was most delighted to come across so many saskatoon shrubs (Amelanchier alnifolia) in bloom – it means there should be plenty of berries in a couple of months!  Saskatoon berries are such a huge treat – other than eating them by the handful straight off the bush, there is absolutely nothing, I repeat nothing, better than a gigantic slice of homemade saskatoon pie.   If you’ve never eaten saskatoons, they look and taste a little like blueberries, except they contain crunchy tiny seeds that give them a delicious wild texture and slightly nutty flavour.  They’re sweet and juicy and full of vitamins and antioxidants.

Saskatoon in flower

An extremely hardy North American native with over twenty species, this member of the rose family goes by a myriad of common and regional names:  Pacific serviceberry, western serviceberry, sarvisberry, alder-leaf shadbush, dwarf shadbush, shadblow, Indian pear, and sugar pear.   I’m not sure where the “pear” references come in, as the fruit doesn’t resemble pears even with a huge application of imagination, but the term “shadbush” apparently came about because the flowering time of the shrub coincides with the migration of shad fish in certain waters.¹  Here in Alberta, we use the English form of the original Cree name mis-sask-qua-too-mina, saskatoons.

Do you grow saskatoons in your garden?  What is your favourite way to eat saskatoon berries? 


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  1. I remember making dye out of serviceberries when I was a girl scout counselor years ago. It was at a camp in the Wasatch Range in Utah. We loved eating them too! Now I enjoy selling the shrubs in the nursery I work at. The fall color is amazing!

    • They definitely have incredible fall colour, another reason to love them! And I’m happy for your comment about using them as dye plants – I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on growing plants for dyes lately and that fits right in. Much thanks!

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