Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Sarvis Blooms in Appalachia

sarvis blooms

My favorite blooms to spot in spring of the year is Sarvis blooms.

Sarvis trees are called Serviceberry trees by most folks and they grow throughout the United States. I’ve read varying accounts of how they came to be called Sarvis. One of the simplest comes from an old issue of Smoky Mountain News:

In A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America (Houghton Mifflin, 1950), naturalist Donald Culross Peattie provides the following explanation for the common name: “It is from the fruits that the sarvisberry takes its name, for the word is a transformation of the ‘sorbus’ given by the Romans to a related kind of fruit. ‘Sarvis’ is a good Shakespearean English of the most classic Latin.” The Oxford English Dictionary provides “sarvice” and “sarves” as variant forms of “service” when applied to one of the European pear trees (Pyrus domestica).

Makes perfect sense, but the other 2 theories are much more to my liking.

—After a long hard winter folks began to look forward to Spring for many reasons, among them the return of the traveling preacher. It seemed the trees began to bloom at the same time church ‘sarvises’ returned.

Nice, but the account I like best comes from one of my favorite Appalachian writers, John Paris.

—Mr. Paris credits the first women who settled in the mountains with naming the Sarvis tree. The women arrived too late in the growing season to plant their saved flower seeds around their newly hewn out home. As the long winter ended, the women were encouraged by seeing the white blooms of the Sarvis tree. They carried the blooms to funerals and other church ‘sarvises’. The women insured the name stuck by passing along the knowledge that Sarvis blooms contain the promise of Spring to their children.


To read a guest post written by Ethelene Dyer Jones about Sarvis trees go here.

You can go here to see what sarvis berries look like when they’re ripe. They are so sweet and tasty! The only problem is they grow so high in the tree tops they’re mighty hard to get to.

Tipper

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19 Comments

  • Reply
    SusieQ ❤️ Donnie Ray
    March 28, 2021 at 7:37 pm

    I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten berries from a sarvis tree, I’d most likely enjoy them because I love all kinds of berries….interesting reading about the differing theories and accounts … I kinda like em all, especially the last two. It’s a heart an day brightener, all the trees and flowers of early spring…. near us we have tulip trees, bradford pear, wild cherry , forsythias… jonicals, haven’t seen any hyacinth yet….and last but not least the lowly dandelion…I look for the first ones every spring. As a line in the song from the movie ”Seven Brides For Seven Brothers ” entitled ” Spring Spring Spring ” sings…. All at once one day it’s spring

  • Reply
    Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
    March 28, 2021 at 4:00 pm

    We lost one of our Sarvis last year to a terrible windstorm. Broke my heart as I had found and planted it and another when we moved to Michigan. Hoped to bring a little of “home” here. I keep seeing wee bits of new growth trying to come up from the root that remained undergrown. If I can only keep the deer away… The other tree is still standing. I only hope I can keep it safe.

  • Reply
    Jan
    March 27, 2021 at 10:46 pm

    Not sure about the sarvis, but my forsythia is beautiful this spring! But please people, don’t try to shape forsythia. They are supposed to be whimsically free like Spring!

    • Reply
      Melissa P. (Misplaced Southerner)
      March 28, 2021 at 4:02 pm

      I couldn’t agree more! Here in Michigan it hurts my soul every time I see yellow bells turned into a shaped “hedge.”

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 27, 2021 at 10:00 pm

    Regardless of my admiration for John Parris I take exception to the explanation that sarvis was a bastardized pronunciation of service. Why, when there is a conflict, do we go with the mainstream. If sarvis is a mispronunciation of service then our “illiterate” ancestors would have said sarv instead of serve. Why couldn’t it be the other way around? What if the Indians or the early white Appalachian settlers named it Sarvis and outsiders and late arrivers have misunderstood? Or have attempted to “correct” for our own good.
    My great grandfather Leander Martin DeHart died in 1961. On his death certificate and in his obituary his name is shown as Lee Andrew instead of Leander. This shows the ignorance of whoever provided the information for these two documents. Apparently they thought Leander was a backwoodsy pronunciation of Lee Andrew when in fact “Leander” is a character in Greek mythology. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero_and_Leander. Why would someone living in Needmore, Swain County, North Carolina, deep in the dark recesses of the Appalachians in 1876, know enough to name their son Leander? Perhaps they read a book! Perhaps those who assume themselves to be more literate haven’t read a book.
    Just because there is a parting of the ways in languages and manners of speech doesn’t mean that those who remained be physically are the ones who are backward. Language does change as society moves aimlessly along. That those who choose to remain behind also choose not to change their language and mannerisms is no indication that they are falling behind the rest of society. It could mean they have foreseen the actual destination of the majority and choose not to follow.

    As an aside, I was talking to my daughter the other day about the afterlife. She said something about what the Bible said about a point I brought up. I said,
    “Where did you read that?”
    “I didn’t, that’s what the preacher said!”
    “So, you don’t know what the Bible said, you know what the preacher said. Right?”

    I wasn’t saying the preacher was wrong. I was warning her not to quote the Bible unless she has read it for herself. My daughter can read but she doesn’t. She trusts others to read for her. She is approaching 50 years of age. I can’t imagine the reading abilities of society 50 years from now. Sad!

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      March 27, 2021 at 10:37 pm

      That should read “behind physically”!

    • Reply
      Tipper
      March 28, 2021 at 6:38 am

      Ed-excellent point!!

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    March 27, 2021 at 6:16 pm

    In our yard in Wise County Virginia, we had a huge sarvice tree in the 50s….daddy hung a swing on its big branches for my 4 ugly brothers….and me. My oldest ugly brother would climb the tree when it got full of ripe berries and shake the branches . Mom had put old sheets on the ground to catch the berries…and there was cobbler for supper. I went across Virginia last Tuesday to my old homeplace…raked up old leaves , cleaned off Mommy and Daddy’s graves. The old sarvice has been gone many years…but other small sarvice trees dot our hillsides . I remember one Easter, I wanted some flowers for the table and a small sarvice tree was in full bloom , on the edge of the cliff below our house. All I had to do was reeeeach a little bit…..well I got that branch I was going for….as I was falling off that 25 foot cliff. I still love that tree….says SPRING IS HERE. And those ugly brothers, well I still call them that…not because of their faces …but because of how they treated me, their only sister.

  • Reply
    Alexis Mohr
    March 27, 2021 at 3:26 pm

    I know this isn’t the right department to post this in but it just popped into my mind. When my mother didn’t want to answer a question, she would say, “Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies.”

    Why do they cal you Tipper?

  • Reply
    dee
    March 27, 2021 at 2:25 pm

    I don’t think I have ever seen a Sarvis tree but here in NE MS, the plumb trees, bradford pear, and redbud have bloomed and the last one is blooming now. My son’s azaleas are blooming and way up high on one of his trees is Jasmine blooming. Last week I went out and around the old place and it seemed everywhere you looked Jasmine was blooming high up on the trees. I don’t know much about Jasmine other than it vines up a tree, is not honeysuckle, and has the most beautiful fragrance. All are yellow. You can see the dogwoods are starting to open too. The hardwood trees are unfurling their green leaves as are the underbrush in the forest. Spring is here!

  • Reply
    Gale Pomeroy
    March 27, 2021 at 12:46 pm

    I first ran into the Blind Pig years ago while looking for something on Saris Jelly. I have been a faithful follower ever sinceG

  • Reply
    Ray Presley
    March 27, 2021 at 9:34 am

    I too have heard the story about taking sarvice flowers to church. My Grandfather Davis had a small tree like that next to his pond, where we would gather with a picnic of sorts, play music and run around. Of course, the boys would eat like wolves and then go crazy running around. The tree was on the way to church, making it easy to grab a few flowers on the way.

  • Reply
    Frank
    March 27, 2021 at 8:50 am

    Well, you’re doing us all a great “sarvis” with the BP&A blog…!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 27, 2021 at 8:36 am

    They are blooming here now. I saw five small ones this week. The story I had read said sarvis, Easter, memorial services in lieu of funerals and mountain travel were all tied up in the name. Reportedly for folks who died in the winter no funeral was held until the spring when travel became easier again and folks could turn out and the preacher – if a traveling one – could show up. That timing coincided with sarvis blooming and – sometimes – Easter as well. One version says sarvis was used as a cut flower for altar decoration at these memorial services but that doesn’t sound Appalachian to me.

    I will send you separately a wildflower picture I took yesterday.

  • Reply
    Dennis M Morgan
    March 27, 2021 at 8:20 am

    I like the account of the woman carrying sarvis blooms to funeral services. Whether that is true or not doesn’t make any difference, it just sounds good.

    I have heard people speak of service berries where I grew up at Flat Creek.

    Thank you for what you do Tipper.

    Dennis Morgan
    Flat Creek Rattler

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 27, 2021 at 7:18 am

    I like the one you do, Tipper, the promise of spring for their children! After a winter in the mountains we still look for spring to come.

  • Reply
    Larry Paul Eddings
    March 27, 2021 at 7:05 am

    I love to see the sarvis trees bloom! We have many of them on our property. The largest one I’ve ever seen is growing on the edge of the yard. It is very old and it’s trunk is almost 10 inches in diameter. It was there when we built our house 41 years ago. Sarvis berries are a tasty treat and I enjoy eating them in the spring. The birds and squirrels love them too!

    • Reply
      Ron Stephens
      March 27, 2021 at 2:52 pm

      Mr. Eddings, if you care to you can look for your State Register of Big Trees online and see; (1) if there is a state champ sarvis, and (2) if so, how it compares with yours. Your state forestry agency will have a nomination process and may well come measure it with or for you if it shows promise of being a state champ or co-champ. Data on those not quite making the champ is taken also because champs may be lost to one or more of many causes. Because crown spread is a factor, champion trees are not infrequently open-grown rather than deep woods.

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