Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — April 2003

Serviceberry Blossoms Say Spring Has Arrived in the Mountain Forests

by Gary Thornbloom

Serviceberry. Shadbush. Sarvisberry. Juneberry. Amelanchier arborea. By whichever name, the brilliant splashes of white that are scattered randomly across the early spring gray mountainsides of Central Pennsylvania cannot be mistaken. There are many different signs of spring in the forest, but the white blossoms of serviceberry arrive once April has warmed and spring is firmly here.

When I see the white patches on the mountainsides while driving valley roads to and from work I know it is time to put on my boots and head for Dry Hollow just north of Black Moshannon State Park.

My favorite way of getting into the hollow is at an access point 2.3 miles east of the Park on the north side of Route 504. There is a convenient parking area here and just beyond a black and yellow metal gate is a convergence of three gas line clearings . Take the gas line to the left and within a couple hundred yards the gas line will drop down a hill. At the bottom of the hill leave the gas line and head off to the left and down the hollow. There is not a trail here, but just stay on the lowest point and continue down for about one half mile. The top of this hollow is wide and has an open park like appearance due in part to overbrowsing by deer that so much of our forests have been subjected to. You will come to North Run Trail, a multiuse trail, which runs south to Route 504 and north to Benner Run Road. Dry Hollow could also be accessed by beginning the hike where North Run Trail crosses Route 504. A map, available at the Park Office, shows the relationship of these trails and highways.

Dry Hollow Trail begins at the North Run Trail and continues down the hollow. Near this trail junction is a vernal pond. Vernal, or springtime, ponds form from snowmelt in the spring and most of them will vanish by the end of summer. Because the pond will disappear for a time no fish can survive and the absence of these predators allows for the perfect habitat for a wide variety of amphibians to breed in. Any child you bring on this hike is certain to find this spot to be worthy of exploration.

There are numerous serviceberry trees along this section of trail. Serviceberry is a small tree generally 20–40 feet high with smooth gray bark that may develop grooves as the trees age. Forest specimens tend to have twisted trunks up to 12 inches in diameter, but most of these trees are much smaller. Some varieties spread by underground stems forming a clump of trees. But whether growing alone or in a clump, serviceberry does not form an entire stand.

Various authors describe the small red berries as delicious to widely varying from tree to tree. Native Americans used the berries in making pemmican. Many species of birds relish the berries, as well as many mammals including bears.

In spring, however, the blossoms are the attraction. The delicate sprays of white blossoms jutting in layered branches from the often twisted trunks reminds me of Japanese or Chinese scroll paintings, or the sparse subtle beauty of Zen gardens. Mid April is generally the most consistent time for the peak of this natural display. Weather and the local lay of the land determine the actual time. Looking at the mountainsides for the splashes of white in April is an obvious sign of when to head into the woods.

And the various names? Amelanchier arborea is the scientific name. Shadbush was the name early settlers gave this tree as it often blossomed during the time shad were migrating up the rivers to spawn, but until our rivers have been restored this is an event few of us can appreciate. Sarvis is colloquial for service, and serviceberry refers to the folklore that services, including memorial services, were performed by traveling preachers in spring around the time this tree blooms. The services delayed by winter were held in this time of renewal when widely separated pioneers could come together. And Juneberry, well that is when the berries are ripe.

The trail continues to Black Moshannon Road, a gravel state forest road where you go left and hike about three quarters of a mile to the Park beach area which is a good place to park a second vehicle if you choose to leave a shuttle vehicle here. This will be about a 4 mile hike. An alternative is to hike up the beginners slope once the Dry Hollow Trail reaches the bottom of the old ski slopes. The beginners slope is a winding opening lined with bluebird nesting boxes that is east of the main ski slope. As you approach the top, bear to the left away from the old ski lodge, which is now available as a rental cabin and may be occupied, and follow the macadam road out to Route 504. Once on Route 504 bear left for 1.3 miles back to your car. This loop is about 3.7 miles.

Any way you hike it Dry Hollow offers an excellent place to become acquainted with serviceberry trees and to make a serviceberry blossom hike a part of your ritual in welcoming each spring.

Maps and Resources

A recreational guide to the park is available for free at the park office; this map includes the trails mentioned. A Public Use Map for Moshannon State Forest is also available with more detail, but on a smaller scale.

The USGS topographic map for the Black Moshannon Quadrangle includes the area discussed in this article and clearly shows Dry Hollow and the ski slopes.

Trees of Pennsylvania, by local author Charles Fergus, includes a chapter on Shadbush.

If You Go: Black Moshannon State Park is nine miles east of Philipsburg on SR 504; or ten miles west of Unionville on SR 504; or six miles north of Julian on the Julian Pike. 2.3 miles east of the Park on the north side of Route 504 is a convenient parking area from which to begin hiking.

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Gary Thornbloom is the Outings Chair for the Moshannon Group of the Sierra Club and can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net