There is plenty on show at the moment - locally many Cherries, Plums, Pears and Magnolias are in full flower, seemingly almost everywhere, heralding spring at last. But I've chosen something that is usually a little smaller, and perhaps a little more subtle, for April's Tree of the Month this year. In America it is the Shadbush, Shadblow, Saskatoon, Chuckley Pear or Seviceberry; here it is better known as the Snowy Mespilus or Juneberry - a clear example of the value of international botanical nomenclature - in this case the genus Amelanchier. That said, once you progress from genus to species, even the botanical nomenclature gets very confusing. A. arborea , which can get to 10m in this country, is often incorrectly called A. canadensis, which is smaller. The oft planted A. lamarckii is (or at least was) also the A. canadensis of many authors, but it might also be labelled A. x grandiflora. Sadly my identification skills are, at best, basic so I simply stick with 'Snowy Mespilus' or the generic 'Amelanchier' and stick with that. The name derives from the Provençal 'amalenquièr' - which is the European form - A. ovalis.
Part of the Rose family, the Amelanchiers are closely related to our Rowans, Whitebeams and Hawthorn . They are a wonderful genus of shrubs and small trees that offer great value to the smaller garden for their wonderful floral displays and autumn colour. Strictly speaking, 'Snowy Mespilus' is the European Amelanchier ovalis, a medium sized shrub, but the name has come to be applied to other introduced species that are commonly found in our gardens. They hail from Europe, Asia, and most abundantly from North America where there are about sixteen species.
They can be propagated by seed or layering and can be grafted onto Hawthorn, but it is not recommended - I'm not sure why but certainly my only tree on a Hawthorn rootstock - a Medlar - struggled to compete. For all I tried to keep the Thorn from taking over, it thrived and finally muscled the crooked Medlar off the graft.
Amelanchier will do well in most soils if not excessively dry or waterlogged. In short, they are not too fussy and are easily cultivated. The most commonly available, and perhaps the best, Amelanchier lamarkii, is a multi-stemmed large shrub or occasionally small tree of up to 10m - though mine has stuck at about 4m and it was planted 17 years ago. I have also seen them effectively used as hedging, happily tolerating the annual trim. The only risk is that being in the Rosaceae family, it can be hit by fireblight disease.
Johnson, H. Trees
Maybey, R. Flora Britannica
Autum colour image: The Tree & Garden Gift Company