SASKATOON BERRY (Amelanchier alnifolia)
The Saskatoon berry is a deciduous shrub or small tree native to North America and is found in the wild from Alaska, across Western Canada and the Western and North Central parts of the USA.
The name comes from the native North American Cree Indian word for the plant. They traditionally used the berries to preserve and add flavour to dried meat.
Selected forms of the plant are now grown commercially in Canada to supply demand for the use of the sweet berries in pies, jam, wine, cider and beer. Sugar infused dried berries are also available to add to cereals, etc. The berries are reported as being high in antioxidants and to taste similar to blueberries.
It can grow several metres tall and can form suckers from the roots to eventually form thickets of plants unless these are pruned out. The plant is frost hardy, but the flowers can be damaged by late frosts. Saskatoons will grow in most types of well-drained soil. They will start to fruit when 2 to 4 years old and will fruit better if they are in a sunny position. They should be easier to grow and be more productive than blueberries.
In the Spring, the Saskatoon carries racemes of up to 20 white flowers, each up to 3 cm across. The fruit are juicy berries, purple when ripe in early Summer and up to 15 mm diameter. Fruit tends to ripen at the same time which will aid picking.
Pruning of Saskatoon plants should be carried out in the Spring before growth starts and it is still possible to easily see the branches. The aim is to remove all damaged, diseased and weak branches. Very low branches, where the berries will be covered in soil, and congested branches in the centre, should also be removed.
Pests and diseases. Hopefully, most of the pests and diseases will have stayed in North America but time will tell. You will however, need to net against the birds, and keep a look out for aphids, caterpillars and mildew. Canker has been reported on plants grown in the UK and should be cut out.
Varieties of Saskatoon berry.
There are several named varieties of Saskatoon, such as Smoky, or Thiessen, but these do not seem to be available in the UK at this time. However, there are plants available in the UK that are raised from seed and they will have some variations. For a UK source of seed grown Saskatoon plants, see my “buy Fruit tree and bushes” page.
Saskatoon berries are sweet tasting with low acidic content when fully ripe. They are sweet enough to be used fresh with cream.
L.H.S. Photos by kind permission of John Stoa.
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