The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Teleost Tuesday: Shadbush

Posted by
James Dochtermann
| May 15, 2007 | Filed under: Observations

Now that spring has arrived and all sorts of new sights, sounds and smells have emerged from the forests and wetlands — it can be difficult to identify flora and fauna in its fleeting blossoms, migration, or courting display. These harbingers can last from a few weeks to just one evening. I find it fascinating to witness life taking advantage of what was just recently frozen solid.

Something I’d like to point out this Teleost Tuesday is the blossoming of the understory shrub or tree commonly known as shadbush (Amelanchier sp.). Other common names are juneberry or serviceberry. It has a simple white flower and can easily be mistaken for a flowering cherry tree, but its smooth gray bark gives it away. I often see it growing along the edges of wetlands or stream banks.

Shadbush is widely distributed in New England and blossoms here in southern Maine in early May — around the same time a famous fish, the American Shad (Alosa sapidissima) ascends our coastal rivers to spawn in fresh water. Shad are a type of herring that are anadromous: They move between fresh and salt water. In the shad’s case, they live the majority of their adult life at sea, returning to their natal streams and rivers in springtime to reproduce.

So the shadbush, which was in full bloom just last week, can be a natural signal that the shad are running. Some say the timing works for another anadromous herring, the alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus). Alewives can sometimes be seen biting at the fallen tassels of oak trees. Other anadromous springtime fishes here in southern Maine are the blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis) and Rainbow Smelt (Osmerus mordax).

Shad used to number in the hundreds of thousands in their schooling migrations in many of the east coast’s rivers. Their numbers have drastically declined due to the usual slew of problems our coastal fishes face: Loss of access to spawning habitat, pollution, and overfishing. Locally, shad can still be found in small numbers ascending the Saco River. Shad are considered a “most delicious” (sapidissima) fish sought after by anglers. The shadbush’s fruit, an important food source for wildlife, is also known to be quite delicious — but good luck beating the birds to those berries.

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