Synonyms: Other names: Cusick's serviceberry Nomenclature: alnifolia = leaves like alder Nativity / Invasiveness: Montana native plant
General: low shrubs or sometimes small trees, mostly 1-5 m tall. Young branches reddish-brown, hairless or more commonly flat-silky-hairy or grayish-woolly, usually rather quickly almost hairless, eventually grayish barked.
Leaves: alternate, with slender stalks 10-20 mm long, the blades often bluish-coated, oval to nearly round, 2-4 cm long, sparsely or copiously flat-silky-hairy or grayish-short-hairy at least on the lower surface, usually sharply toothed for most of the length to only across the tip.
Flowers: 3-20 in short clusters, the stalks slender, 5-10 mm long. Calyx hairless to woolly-hairy, especially on the inner surface of the lobes, these pointed, 1.5-5 mm long. Petals 5, white, linear-oblanceolate, 10-20 mm long, 2-6 mm broad. Stamens 15-20, the filaments 2-3 mm long, the anthers 0.5-1 mm long. Styles usually 5, joined nearly full length to separate almost to the base. Ovary inferior, the rounded top hairless to densely grayish-woolly.
Fruits: berry-like pomes, usually hairless, waxy-coated, round, 10-14 mm. long, dark purplish, juicy and palatable.
Open woods, canyons, and hillsides, from the plains to subalpine, in most parts of MT. Also from s. AK to Alberta, CA, CO, NM and AZ, e. to NE and the Dakotas.
Saskatoon serviceberry has edible fruits, raw or cooked. The fruit ripens in mid summer, it is soft and juicy with a few small seeds in the center. A very nice sweet flavor that is enjoyed by almost everyone who tries it, there is a hint of apple in the taste. About the size of a blackcurrant, the fruit is produced in small clusters and the best wild forms can be 15 mm in diameter. The fruit can also be dried and used as raisins or made into pemmican. It is rich in iron and copper. The leaves can be used as a tea substitute.
Saskatoon was quite widely employed as a medicinal herb by the North American Indians, who used it to treat a wide range of minor complaints. It is little used in modern herbalism. An infusion of the inner bark has been used as a treatment for snow-blindness. A decoction of the fruit juice is mildly laxative. It has been used in the treatment of upset stomachs, to restore the appetite in children, it is also applied externally as ear and eye drops. A decoction of the roots has been used in the treatment of colds. It has also been used as a treatment for too frequent menstruation. A decoction of the stems, combined with the stems of snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp) is diaphoretic. It has been used to induce sweating in the treatment of fevers, flu etc. and also in the treatment of chest pains and lung infections. A decoction of the plant, together with bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata) has been used as a contraceptive. Other recipes involving this plant have also been used as contraceptives including a decoction of the ashes of the plant combined with the ashes of pine branches or buds. A strong decoction of the bark was taken immediately after childbirth to hasten the dropping of the placenta. It was said to help clean out and help heal the woman's insides and also to stop her menstrual periods after the birth, thus acting as a form of birth control.
Plants have a spreading, suckering root system and are used in windbreaks for erosion control. Young branches can be twisted to make a rope. The wood is hard, straight grained and tough. It has been used for tool handles etc. The wood can be made even harder by heating it over a fire and it is easily molded while still hot. The young stems has been used to make rims, handles and as a stiffening in basket making.
var. alnifolia Nutt.: Petals usually less than 12 mm long. Top of the ovary mostly strongly short-hairy. Flowers almost always with 5 styles. Leaves various but usually strongly toothed for most of the upper half.
var. cusickii (Fern. ) C. L. Hitchc.: Petals usually well over 12 mm long. Top of the ovary from hairless to rather copiously hairy, but usually not grayish-woolly. Petals mostly 16-25 mm long and 4-8.5 mm broad. Calyx lobes averaging 3-5 mm long. The largest flowered of the varieties.
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