SER­VICE­ABLE BERRIES

Plant gives much and ex­pects lit­tle in re­turn, says colum­nist.

Cape Breton Post - - Cape Breton - An­na­marie Hatcher

In the Mi’kmaw lan­guage, the Au­gust moon time is Kisikewiku’s (berry ripen­ing time), a time when the har­vest of many types of berries dom­i­nates ac­tiv­i­ties in the Bras d’Or Lake Bio­sphere.

Au­gust meals for both four­legged and two-legged species fea­ture freshly har­vested blue­ber­ries, rasp­ber­ries and black­ber­ries. Also ripen­ing dur­ing the Au­gust moon is the ser­vice­berry, which many of us have al­ways known as In­dian Pear.

Ser­vice­ber­ries, of which there are about 20 species, are found on shrubby-trees in north­ern tem­per­ate ar­eas. In the Bras d’Or Lake Bio­sphere there are six species and many crossspecies hy­brids but the most com­mon ones are known as the Al­legheny and the Cana­dian ser­vice­berry. A closely re­lated species in the western prov­inces is the fa­mous Saska­toon ser­vice­berry for which that city was named.

In our bio­sphere in Au­gust, the shrubby ser­vice­berry tree is vir­tu­ally un­no­tice­able in con­trast to its promi­nence in May with masses of white blooms amid the drab forests awak­en­ing from win­ter’s slum­ber.

In ad­di­tion to bright­en­ing up the early spring land­scape, th­ese lonely flow­ers may mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death for early emerg­ing in­sects in May. Ser­vice­ber­ries are im­por­tant plants for the lar­vae of but­ter­flies such as eastern tiger swal­low­tail, viceroy, ad­mi­rals and oth­ers.

You might think that ser­vice­berry trees were named be­cause of all the ser­vices they pro­vide to the other bio­sphere in­hab­i­tants. Ac­tu­ally, ser­vice­berry is de­rived from ‘sarvis­berry’ which de­scribes a Euro­pean tree with sim­i­lar­look­ing fruit.

Al­though the ser­vice­berry is not a pop­u­lar food for peo­ple any­more, tra­di­tion­ally it was an im­por­tant diet com­po­nent for the Mi’kmaq, the first peo­ples of the bio­sphere.

The pur­ple berries are a hid­den gem, with a taste sim­i­lar to blue­ber­ries. So, one of the ser­vices that this tree pro­vides is the de­liv­ery of lit­tle parcels of food that are packed with an­tiox­i­dants and mi­cronu­tri­ents. Th­ese berries would have been a sig­nif­i­cant nu­tri­tional boost in the times be­fore gro­cery stores.

In more northerly lat­i­tudes the ser­vice­berry is one of the com­po­nents of pem­mi­can, adding to the flavour and nu­tri­tional value of the seal fat. In our bio­sphere, the ser­vice­berry cer­tainly con­trib­utes sig­nif­i­cantly to the health and well-be­ing of many of the bio­sphere’s birds and other wild res­i­dents.

In the Mi’kmaw lan­guage, the ser­vice­berry tree is Alo’qumwe­jit. In the Bras d’Or Lake Bio­sphere it is also called shad­bush. This name un­der­lines the sec­ond sig­nif­i­cant ser­vice that this plant pro­vides.

The show of flow­ers on the tree in May is a sig­nal that schools of the fish called ‘shad’ are mov­ing from oceanic wa­ters into the es­tu­ar­ies and rivers of Eastern Canada such as the Bras d’Or es­tu­ary and its trib­u­taries.

It is not that the fish see the flow­ers as a sig­nal to spawn. It is just that the warm­ing tem­per­a­tures and length­en­ing days of spring stim­u­late flow­er­ing in the shad­bush at about the same time that the fish’s re­pro­duc­tive urges sig­nal them to swim up­stream to mate.

In na­ture, every­thing is con­nected. So, the ma­tur­ing off­spring of those spring vis­i­tors should be ready to leave their fresh­wa­ter nurs­eries at about the time that we are pick­ing the ripe pur­ple berries of the shad­bush in Au­gust.

The third ser­vice pro­vided by the ser­vice­berry is as a medicine. Steeped root bark has been used to treat di­ar­rhea by most In­dige­nous Peo­ples in­hab­it­ing ar­eas where the shrub is found. It has also been used for treat­ing chil­dren for worms and as a lax­a­tive and cough medicine among a host of other ap­pli­ca­tions.

The tough wood of young ser­vice­berry stems and branches have been used in bas­ketry, rope, ar­row and tool­mak­ing, lead­ing to the fourth sig­nif­i­cant ser­vice.

I am sure the plant pro­vides many more ser­vices to the other res­i­dents of our bio­sphere. This one plant gives so

“The show of flow­ers on the tree in May is a sig­nal that schools of the fish called ‘shad’ are mov­ing from oceanic wa­ters into the es­tu­ar­ies and rivers of Eastern Canada.”

much and ex­pects so lit­tle in re­turn.

You are likely to come across a clump of ser­vice­berry trees near wet­lands at low el­e­va­tions in the bio­sphere. Make

sure that you say a lit­tle ‘thank you for your ser­vice’ when you pass one.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Ripen­ing fruit of the shad­bush.

SUBMITTED PHO­TOS

The shad­bush flow­er­ing in spring.

An Amer­i­can shad av­er­ages 14-29 inches.

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