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They look nice; they taste even better

Serviceberry trees around Gainesville produce sweet, edible fruit

POSTED: May 20, 2011 12:30 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA /The Times

Jason Justice, the city of Gainesville's senior planner and certified arborist, picks a berry from a serviceberry tree Wednesday in Gainesville. Serviceberry trees typically begin bearing fruit in June, but have emerged earlier this year.

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When it comes to landscaping your property, the city of Gainesville has discovered that trees and shrubs can do more than look pretty. They also can be edible.

Scattered throughout the city's landscape are a handful of serviceberry trees. When ripe, the tree's berries are safe for consumption.

"The ripe ones are a deep blue color. When they're ripe, they are really sweet," said Jason Justice, city senior planner and a landscape architect.

"They are a very good substitute for blueberries. My wife has used them to make pies and cobblers, but they're also good fresh, with yogurt or in muffins.

"You can also dry the berries and eat them like raisins. They have lots of fiber and are rich in vitamins."

The serviceberry tree is also known as a Juneberry tree, because that's typically the month that they berries are fully ripened. However, the recent bout of unseasonably warm weather that settled in Hall County in recent months has caused some of the local serviceberries to ripen early.

According to Justice, the trees are native to Michigan and prefer cooler, climates. He also says they're a good choice for landscapers who may not have the most green of thumbs.

"They're pretty easy to grow and are very low maintenance," Justice said.

"Not a lot of diseases attack them. The main things you have to look out for are birds, squirrels, bears and deer that like to eat the berries.

"Typically these trees are found in the woods, surrounded by (taller) trees, but they do well in landscaped areas too."

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, serviceberry trees can grow in partial shade to full sun. The department says that moist, but well-drained soil is best, but it's not impossible to grow serviceberry trees in dry areas.

The trees typically sprout white flowers in mid-April. Those blooms give way to green, spiked fruit. Those berries will lose their spikes and turn red before developing a deep bluish color when fully ripened.

"Once they are ripe, you really need to get them off the tree as soon as possible because they will dry up quickly, especially in (a city setting)," Justice said.

Although Native American tribes have used the berries for various medicinal and food purposes for hundreds of years, Justice says the serviceberry tree is still pretty unknown in today's general population.

"People don't typically go around picking and eating fruit from trees, especially in a (city) setting like this," Justice said.

"There are a lot of trees like this that have berries you can eat. A lot of people just don't know about them."



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