Posts Tagged ‘Rose family’

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.  Genesis 8:22

Sarvis blossoms. This is the smooth leaved serviceberry. Reddish leaves will turn green later.

There’s still a nip in the air, but it’s friendlier. Blustery, but not biting. The grass in greening; sundown comes a little later. About this time I can feel it. I always know: it’s apple blossom time. And scattery little white smudges dot the gray landscape to prove it. It’s the sarvis, the first of the wild flowering trees to put forth its blossoms. The sarvis, like the apple tree, is of the rose family. And I can’t resist interjecting here — so am I — Scottish forebears be thanked. There are twenty species in this plant family. The sarvis I am familiar with is the smooth leaved serviceberry, which is the variant laevis of Amelanchier arborea. This is a small tree having glossy leaves; its blossoms are very delicate, with longish slender petals. Like other plants of the rose family, the sarvis has five petals. The fruit is red, like an apple, and about the size of a huckleberry. It also tastes somewhat like an apple, though I was never privileged to eat very many.

My mother was an outdoor lover, “I growed up in the woods,” she would say. She was our teacher of all things wild and wonderful when we were young. She had the ability to transform an ordinary afternoon into a fascinating adventure as we followed her through the fields and forests. She identified the plants and little creatures we encountered — that is she told us what her mama said it was. For instance the little red spotted newt was a “red dog”; chipmunks were “ground squirrels”; quails were “Bob whites”; and the large river salamander was a “water dog”. Of the plants, the wild azaleas were “honeysuckles”; the mountain laurel was “ivy” (and still is around here); the rhododendron is still widely known in our country as “laurel”.  When you don’t know any better, none of this is confusing in the least!

One bright day Mama led us up the road from Grandma’s house to Grandpa Johnny’s mill. If you don’t know where that was you might read my post Grandpa Johnny’s Mill.  This day I was considerably older than the day of my momentous first visit to the mill. Mama wouldn’t let us go inside the mill since no one was there, but she did allow us to explore all around and to watch the frothing tumbling waters as they came over the falls. Despite its unimaginative name, Mill Shoals is a very impressive waterfall. While we were enjoying the beautiful sunshine and exploring that site’s many secrets, Mama spied some bright red berries on a high limb above the creek. Right away she knew what they were, and that they were worth whatever trouble it might take to obtain them.

Sarvis Berries
Vanessa Richins/Wikimedia Commons

“They’re sarvis berries,” she said. We didn’t know what that was. She told us there weren’t many sarvis trees, and that she hadn’t seen one in a long time. Nor had we, of course, for we lived twenty miles away, in an entirely different world. Today twenty miles is nothing. Back then twenty miles was a “fur piece” and you didn’t climb into the car just every day to go visit Grandma.

It took her a while, but Mama managed to gather a small handful of those red berries and we were happy to eat them. That gave my mama immense satisfaction for some reason.

Many years later on a grayish looking spring day I found myself at Grandma’s old house, trudging through the woods with my grown daughter looking for “honeysuckles” and whatever fascination the woods had to offer. That day she found a small cache of eggs in a bird’s nest securely anchored at eye level in a little tree. That gave me immense satisfaction. Mothers are like that.

About twenty years ago I had the good fortune of gathering and sampling a few sarvis berries from a low growing little tree in a cemetery over in Graham County, NC. I was amazed when I picked one open how the inside of the sarvis berry resembles the core of an apple!

By now you might be wondering: if this is a service berry, why is it called a sarvis berry? Well, I am not sure. Some say the word sarvis is a corruption of the word sorbus which is an identifier of a European plant of essentially the same family. Others say the flowers were used for funeral services that were held in the spring. And there is at least one more opinion. And you can add yours to that if you want to.

Sarvis in bloom

Since I have been privileged to live again at an elevation where this tree is a little more plentiful I watch for the sarvis at the end of winter. My neighbor has two or three sarvis trees at the edge of his pasture. And now, thanks to the birds and their droppings I have two of my own above my spring branch. They bloomed this year for the first time. Heretofore I knew not what they were — just part of the landscape. Imagine my delight when I looked out the back door last week and saw those frilly white blossoms! If the birds don’t get ahead of me I hope to enjoy my own sarvis berries this summer. That will give me immense satisfaction.


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