Learn about Westchester’s Native Plants

18 Mar, 2013

By Joyce Newman, Environmental Reporter


Native Serviceberry or Shadbush Tree, a four- season beauty.

Native Serviceberry or Shadbush Tree, one of the earliest to bloom in spring.

Westchester’s Native Plant Center (NPC) is one of the best resources for homeowners who want to create low-maintenance, water-saving, eco-friendly gardens. Whether you’re planning to create a small container garden, a window box, or larger landscapes, the staff at NPC can help.

Located on the campus of Westchester Community College in Valhalla, NPC has two demonstration gardens, and provides a wide range of events, on-going programs, and services, including recommended plants and classes for home gardeners and professionals. Coming up in April there’s a one-day session “Nativelicious: Gardening with Edible Native Plants.”

Then on April 27th there’s the Center’s  Annual Native Plant Sale featuring a selection of plants that can flourish in our area, provide habitats for wildlife, prevent soil erosion, protect water quality, and offer other ecological benefits.

NPC’s Executive Director, Carol Capobianco, points out another benefit of native plants: They are ” the embodiment of local identity,” grounding us and “revealing the uniqueness”  of  our region.  One example is the small Serviceberry or Shadbush Tree (Amelanchier laevis), which blooms early in spring. Birds love its berries in the summer, as do some cooks who say they are more delicious in pies and tarts than blueberries. The trees are easy to grow in many garden situations, and they have beautiful color in fall and lovely bark in winter– a four- season value.Serviceberryberryunrestricted

One story about the Serviceberry is that the first settlers in the New England area often planned funeral services at the same time that the tree bloomed. Its blooming was a sign that the ground had thawed sufficiently to be able to dig graves. So the tree became known as the ‘serviceberry tree.’

Another story is that for thousands of years along the Hudson River Valley, the bloom time of the tree coincided with the massive spring shad fish run up the river to spawn. So the tree was called the ‘shadbush’ or ‘shadblow.’ Today, the shad fish population in the Hudson has declined to dangerously low levels, as have other Hudson River fish, and they are now at risk. But the trees have held their ground.

In the award-winning children’s book, When the Shadbush Blooms, a young Lenape Indian girl fishes for shad and recalls a time when her great, great grandmother did the same. In fact, many Native American tribes used the plant for food and medicine and to make arrow shafts.

The Serviceberry Tree is one the native plants singled out as a 2013 Native Plant of the Year by the NPC. To find out more, visit or contact The Native Plant Center Westchester Community College 75 Grasslands Road, Valhalla, NY 10595 nativeplantcenter.org • 914-606-7870 wcc.nativeplant@sunywcc.edu.

 Photographs courtesy Wildflower.org.
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