Updated on 5/9
I think my favorite tree is actually a bush – a shadbush to be precise. (A shadbush?) For about a week now, these resplendent white flower show boats have been exploding from the woods and fields around West Tisbury, where I live.
More than daffodils, forsythia, pinkletinks or the first robin, for me, spring only officially debuted when I see my first shadbush. Their blossoms are more subdued than the cherry blossoms, which appear around the same time, but in a “Hey, look at me!” kind of way; since I’m from an old Yankee lineage, maybe their relative reserve is one of the things I like about them.
If there had been cherry blossoms in colonial times, I’m sure my ancestors would have considered them a bit “showy” – perhaps even shocking for their Puritan sensibility.
The beauty of the shadbushes was that they were not only beautiful in the manner of a “Priscilla Alden in a cool white apron”, but also had utility value. I like to think of the shadbush as the workman’s cherry tree.
Take the name “shadbush”; it refers to the fact that the flowers coincide with the race of the shad in many New England streams. A way of saying: “Of course, I am beautiful, but there is something to be done.
Saskatoon berries are also known as Saskatoon berries and, etymologically speaking, serviceberry derivatives are rich. One derivation claims the flowers heralded when the roads in the Appalachian Mountains became passable, so that itinerant preachers could travel inside and church “services” could resume.
Another derivation was when the ground was thawed enough to dig graves, and funeral “services” could be arranged for those who had died during the winter.
And maybe my favorite derivation for the serviceberry is that the flowers indicate when farmers should start raising, or “tending” their livestock.
Flowers that say, “Sure I’m beautiful, but don’t you think it’s time to start thinking about breeding?