I spent my childhood in climates where the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) flourished, and I loved its elegant simplicity. When we moved here, I was dismayed but not surprised when my new neighbor told me that she had twice planted a flowering dogwood in a protected corner of her house, and twice it had died. Having just endured my first thirty-degrees-below-zero-Fahrenheit winter, no, I was not surprised.
But I was surprised to discover a tree that has much of the grace of the dogwood, with a decidedly stronger constitution: the Juneberry (Amelanchier species). A member of the rose family, it is a cousin to the apple clan but blooms before them, usually about a week before the forest canopy leafs out, when the emerging leaves are but a confetti of yellows, reds, and greens. An American native, it evokes the Japanese garden in the elegant structure of its branches and the ephemeral, fleeting nature of the blossoms.
We have become something of Juneberry connoisseurs and are more sensitive to individual differences. This one on the right has consistently whiter and more floriferous blossoms. Even from the house, at the bottom of the hill, it glows like a beacon, drawing us up into the woods. Others (such as below) are more upright, drawing the eye to the spring sky and the canopy on the brink of emerging.
It’s a bit like bringing coals to Newcastle, but I became so enamored with these unassuming trees that I searched out Amelanchier ‘Autumn Brilliance’ to plant as a landscape tree near the house, seduced by catalog copy promising larger and more plentiful flowers and spectacular autumn foliage (pictured below left). This is a hybrid of two species, Amelanchier canadensis and Amelanchier laevis. The leaves do turn spectacular shades of orange–one at a time, from the bottom of the canopy up, starting in August–and it is one of the first trees to be completely denuded. I don’t know if this is normal behavior or not, but it is consistent, and the tree doesn’t otherwise seem to be under stress. Its one advantage is that it blooms a good week later than all its native-born sisters up the hill. All in all, it doesn’t seem to be enough of an improvement that I would go out and spend money on another one. I’d be more inclined to try to propagate that especially brilliant white one, wouldn’t you?