, commonly called chokecherry
, or Virginia bird cherry
, is a species of bird cherry (Prunus
) native to North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...
, where it is found almost throughout the continent except for the Deep South
The Deep South is a descriptive category of the cultural and geographic subregions in the American South. Historically, it is differentiated from the "Upper South" as being the states which were most dependent on plantation type agriculture during the pre-Civil War period...
and the far north.
It is a suckering shrub
A shrub or bush is distinguished from a tree by its multiple stems and shorter height, usually under 5–6 m tall. A large number of plants may become either shrubs or trees, depending on the growing conditions they experience...
or small tree
A tree is a perennial woody plant. It is most often defined as a woody plant that has many secondary branches supported clear of the ground on a single main stem or trunk with clear apical dominance. A minimum height specification at maturity is cited by some authors, varying from 3 m to...
growing to 5 m tall. The leaves
A leaf is an organ of a vascular plant, as defined in botanical terms, and in particular in plant morphology. Foliage is a mass noun that refers to leaves as a feature of plants....
are oval, 3–10 cm long, with a coarsely serrated margin. The flowers are produced in raceme
A raceme is a type of inflorescence that is unbranched and indeterminate and bears pedicellate flowers — flowers having short floral stalks called pedicels — along the axis. In botany, axis means a shoot, in this case one bearing the flowers. In a raceme, the oldest flowers are borne...
s of 15-30 in late spring (well after leaf emergence). The fruit
In broad terms, a fruit is a structure of a plant that contains its seeds.The term has different meanings dependent on context. In non-technical usage, such as food preparation, fruit normally means the fleshy seed-associated structures of certain plants that are sweet and edible in the raw state,...
are about 1 cm diameter, range in color from bright red to black, with a very astringent
An astringent substance is a chemical compound that tends to shrink or constrict body tissues, usually locally after topical medicinal application. The word "astringent" derives from Latin adstringere, meaning "to bind fast"...
, sour taste. The very ripe berries are dark in color and less astringent than the red berries.
Aronia, the chokeberries, are two to three species of deciduous shrubs in the family Rosaceae, native to eastern North America. They are most commonly found in wet woods and swamps. Chokeberries are cultivated as ornamental plants and also because they are very high in antioxidant pigment...
, genus Aronia
, are often mistakenly called chokecherries. This naming confusion is easy to understand considering there is a cultivar of the chokecherry Prunus virginiana
'Melanocarpa' and a species of chokeberry named Aronia melanocarpa
. In fact, the two plants are not close relatives within their subfamily Spiraeoideae
The subfamily Spiraeoideae was traditionally a subfamily of flowering plants within family Rosaceae. The taxonomy of this subfamily has changed several times in the last century as more detailed studies have been carried out...
Chokecherries are very high in antioxidant pigment compounds, such as anthocyanins. They share this property with chokeberries, further contributing to confusion.
is sometimes divided into two varieties, P. virginiana
(the eastern chokecherry), and P. virginiana
(the western chokecherry).
The wild chokecherry is often considered a pest, as it is a host for the tent caterpillar
Tent caterpillars are moderately sized species in the genus Malacosoma and in the moth family Lasiocampidae. Species occur in North America, Mexico, and Eurasia. Twenty-six species have been described, six of which occur in North America. Some species are considered to have subspecies as well. ...
, a threat to other fruit plants. However, there are more appreciated cultivar
A cultivar'Cultivar has two meanings as explained under Formal definition. When used in reference to a taxon, the word does not apply to an individual plant but to all those plants sharing the unique characteristics that define the cultivar. is a plant or group of plants selected for desirable...
s of the chokecherry, such as 'Goertz', which has a nonastringent, and therefore palatable, fruit. Research at the University of Saskatchewan
The University of Saskatchewan is a Canadian public research university, founded in 1907, and located on the east side of the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. An "Act to establish and incorporate a University for the Province of Saskatchewan" was passed by the...
seeks to find and create new cultivars to increase production and processing.
The chokecherry is closely related to the black cherry (Prunus serotina
) of eastern North America; it is most readily distinguished from that by its smaller size (black cherry trees can reach 30 m tall), smaller leaves, and sometimes red ripe fruit. The chokecherry leaf has a finely serrated margin and is dark green above with a paler underside, while the black cherry leaf has numerous blunt edges along its margin and is dark green and smooth.
The name chokecherry has also been used (as Amur chokecherry) for the related Manchurian cherry or Amur cherry (Prunus maackii
For many Native American tribes of the Northern Rockies, Northern Plains, and boreal forest region of Canada and the United States, chokecherries were the most important fruit in their diets. The bark of chokecherry root was once made into an asperous-textured concoction used to ward off or treat colds, fever and stomach maladies by native Americans The inner bark of the chokecherry, as well as red osier dogwood, or alder, was also used by Native Americans
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...
in their smoking mixtures, known as kinnikinnick
, to improve the taste of the bearberry
Bearberries are three species of dwarf shrubs in the genus Arctostaphylos. Unlike the other species of Arctostaphylos , they are adapted to Arctic and sub-Arctic climates, and have a circumpolar distribution in northern North America, Asia and Europe, one with a small highly disjunctive population...
leaf. The chokecherry fruit can be used to make a tasty jam, jelly, or syrup, but the bitter nature of the fruit requires sugar to sweeten the preserves.
Chokecherry is toxic to horses, and moose, cattle, goats, deer, and other animals with segmented stomachs (rumen
The rumen, also known as a paunch, forms the larger part of the reticulorumen, which is the first chamber in the alimentary canal of ruminant animals. It serves as the primary site for microbial fermentation of ingested feed...
s), especially after the leaves have wilted (such as after a frost or after branches have been broken) because wilting releases cyanide
A cyanide is a chemical compound that contains the cyano group, -C≡N, which consists of a carbon atom triple-bonded to a nitrogen atom. Cyanides most commonly refer to salts of the anion CN−. Most cyanides are highly toxic....
and makes the plant sweet. About 5–10 kg of foliage can be fatal. Symptoms of a horse that has been poisoned include heavy breathing, agitation, and weakness. The leaves of the chokecherry serve as food for caterpillar
Caterpillars are the larval form of members of the order Lepidoptera . They are mostly herbivorous in food habit, although some species are insectivorous. Caterpillars are voracious feeders and many of them are considered to be pests in agriculture...
s of various Lepidoptera
Lepidoptera is a large order of insects that includes moths and butterflies . It is one of the most widespread and widely recognizable insect orders in the world, encompassing moths and the three superfamilies of butterflies, skipper butterflies, and moth-butterflies...
. See List of Lepidoptera which feed on Prunus
In 2007, Governor John Hoeven
John Henry Hoeven III is the junior United States Senator from North Dakota. He is a member of the North Dakota Republican Party. He is expected to become the state's senior senator when Kent Conrad retires from the Senate in January 2013.Hoeven served as the 31st Governor of North Dakota,...
signed a bill naming the chokecherry the official fruit of the state of North Dakota, in part because its remains have been found at more archeological sites in the Dakotas than anywhere else.
Chokecherry is also used to craft wine in the western United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
mainly in the Dakotas and Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...
as well as in Manitoba
Manitoba is a Canadian prairie province with an area of . The province has over 110,000 lakes and has a largely continental climate because of its flat topography. Agriculture, mostly concentrated in the fertile southern and western parts of the province, is vital to the province's economy; other...
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...