The saskatoon has long been a treasured wild fruit and a prairie tradition, having been a plentiful staple fruit for the prairies for years. It is often compared to the blueberry in terms of the berry's size, texture and flavor with an almondy flavor. Saskatoons once mature can range in height from 6' to 14' and are approximately 4' to 6' in width. The bushes produce clusters of flavorful sweet fruit in great profusion.
The saskatoon is a hardy and tolerant fruit species. It is resistant to low temperatures and drought, and grows in a wide range of soil is a hardy and tolerant fruit species. It is resistant to low temperatures and drought, and grows in a wide range of soil types. It has the capacity to be productive for many years. As well as having value as a fruit, the saskatoon also has value as an ornamental. Masses of showy flowers appear in the spring, and then has brilliant fall foliage.
The saskatoon has not been domesticated. However, a number of selections having superior characteristics have been selected. This native fruit species is gaining importance as a commercial fruit crop on the prairies. Relatively small orchards or plantations of such fruit species can produce high yields and profits. Interest in cultivating the saskatoon has grown because of strong demand with limited supply collected from the wild. As well, the short, dry growing season and harsh winters typical of the prairie climate are not conducive to the commercial production of typical domesticated fruit crops but favor the saskatoon.
The saskatoon was important and widely used by North American Indian people and later Europeon explorers and settlers. Saskatoon blossoms symbolized spring in the tobacco-planting ceremony of the Blackfoot and the Sun Dance was held in July when the fruit is ripe. The fruit was a staple food. The saskatoon, along with the chokecherry and buffaloberry, were often the only kind of fruit available in any quantity. Many tribes held ceremonies and feasts to celebrate the beginning of the saskatoon harvest.
The fruit was steamed and mashed, made into cakes, and then dried. Pieces were chipped off as needed and added to soups, stews, or boiled to reconstitute them. Pemmican was a mixture of dried meat and saskatoons with an equal amount of melted fat molded into cakes. Pemmican would keep for months if stored in a cool, dry place and was a winter staple of the Plains Indian tribe.
Several parts of the shrub were used medicinally. The wood has a straight grain, and is hard and strong. It was used for making bows, arrows and other tools. The word saskatoon was an anglicized version of the Cree name for the fruit which was Mis-sask-qua-too-mina or Mis-sask-a-too-mina.
Fruit of the saskatoon was also popular with Europeon explorers and settlers. The saskatoon was often the only fruit available to early prairie settlers and was an important food source for victims of drought and depression in the 1930's.
David Thompson reported in 1810;
"On the great Plains there is a shrub bearing a very sweet berry of a dark blue color, much sought after, great quantities are dried by the Natives; in this state, these berries are as sweet as the best currants, and as much as possible mixed to make pemmican; the wood is hard, weighty and flexible, but not elastic, and wherever it can be procured always forms the Arrow of the Indian, I have dwelt on the above, as it (is) the staple food of all persons, and affords the most nourishment in the least space and weight..." David Thompson went on to suggest that this fruit ought to be cultivated in Canada and England.
The saskatoon is a woody, fruit-bearing perennial shrub belonging to the rose family and is native to the interior of North America.
The North American species of Amelanchier are variously called by the common names serviceberry, saskatoon, Juneberry, shadberry, sugar pear and Indian pear.
Amelanchier alnifolia, the saskatoon, is a western North American species, ranging from Alaska, the Yukon and Northwest Territories (close to the Arctic Circle), and south to California, Arizona, and New Mexico.
The saskatoon is commonly found in open woods, coulees and bluffs, on hillsides and along gullies and banks along streams. Found on dry rocky soils in full sunlight to moist, deep, fertile soils, from near sea level to subalpine altitudes.
The saskatoon is capable of tolerating wide ranges of soil pH and texture and is also very cold-hardy. The flower buds have been found to have the potential for extreme resistance to low temperature injury (-50 to -60C).
The first commercial saskatoon orchards were established in the early 1970's and a second wave was established in the late 1980's and early 1990's.
Accurate estimates of the total acreage of saskatoons planted to date are difficult to obtain. It is estimated 800 hectares of saskatoons are established in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Currently, the demand for saskatoons far exceeds supply. The saskatoon industry is in its infancy. It has been predicted that over 4,000 hectares of saskatoons will be planted on the prairies in the next ten to fifteen years.