General: Rose Family (Rosaceae). Chokecherry is a native, perennial, deciduous, woody, thicket-forming large erect shrub or small tree. It rarely reaches a height of over 30 feet. The crown is irregular and from 10 to 20 feet wide when mature. The stems are numerous and slender. Reproduction can either be by seed or root rhizomes.
Leaves are dark green and glossy above and paler beneath. They are alternate, simple, glabrous, oval to broadly elliptic in shape, 1 to 4 inches long, and 3/4 to 2 inches wide. The margins are toothed with closely-spaced sharp teeth pointing outward forming a serrated edge. They turn yellow in autumn.
The bark of young trees may vary from gray to a reddish brown. As it ages the bark turns darker, into brownish-black and becomes noticeably furrowed. The bark is distinctly marked by horizontal rows of raised air pores (lenticels). With maturation the lenticels develop into shallow grooves.
It has perfect flowers which are aromatic and arranged in cylindrical racemes 3 to 6 inches long. The racemes always grow on the current year's leafy twig growth. Individual flowers are perfect, 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter with 5 white petals. The flowers start appearing before the leaves are fully developed. Flowers may appear from April to July and fruits form a couple of months later.
The fruits are spherical drupes (fleshy fruit with a stone in the center), globose, 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter. Small ripe cherries range in color from dark red or purple to almost black. There are from 3,000 to 5,000 seeds per pound.
The roots are a network of rhizomes. Deep root systems grow at irregular intervals along the length of the rhizomes. Rhizomes can extend beyond the drip zone, up to 35 feet away from the base of the tree. Rhizomes grow up to 3/4 inch in diameter.
There are three recognized varieties of Prunus virginiana. The variety demissa is commonly called western chokecherry. It produces dark red fruit. The variety melanocarpa produces black fruit. The variety virginiana produces crimson to deep red fruit. This variety can be found in two forms, one with red and one with white fruit.
Habitat: Chokecherry is found in a large geographic area and it grows abundantly in many habitat types and plant associations. It may be found in thin stands, as dense thickets or individually in open forest clearings. It prefers direct sunlight and is not an understory species of boreal forests.
Chokecherry occurs naturally in a wide range of soil types and textures. Soils supporting chokecherry vary considerably, from abandoned construction sites, with almost no soil depth or fertility, to deep virgin grasslands, with deep profiles and a high level of nutrients. Soil textures range from silt to sandy loam, it does not do well on heavy clay soils. Soil pH can vary from 5.2 (mildly acid) to 8.4 (moderately alkaline) without any adverse effect upon growth. Precipitation ranges from 13 to 65 inches annually. Sites range from low to mostly mid-elevation, although it also occurs from 8,000 to 10,000 feet in Idaho, Nevada and Utah. It is widely adaptable to temperature extremes. It is found in USDA hardiness zones 2 to 7 naturally. If planted, chokecherry will grow into zone 10. The four major limiting factors in its habitat are that it is intolerant of shade, poor drainage, frequent flooding and soils with a large amount of clay.
Many wildlife animals eat the fruit and distribute it. Birds are by far the most common carrier of the seeds. As a consequence it grows abundantly on places where birds rest, like along roadsides, fences, hedgerows, riparian margins and forest clearings.
Chokecherry is well adapted to fire disturbance. It can be top-killed by fire, but re-sprouts readily from root crowns and rhizomes. Seed germination is apparently improved with heat treatment, suggesting a further adaptation to fire.
common chokecherry, choke cherry, black chokecherry, red chokecherry, California chokecherry, Virginia chokecherry, eastern chokecherry, western chokecherry, rum chokecherry, whiskey chokecherry, wild cherry, wild blackcherry, bird cherry, jamcherry, chokeberry, cabinet cherry, chuckleyplum, sloe tree, bitter-berry, caupulin.
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regional Distribution in the Western United States
This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):
1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
Occurrence in North America
common chokecherry - eastern variety; occurs from Saskatchewan to Newfoundland southward to Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee and North Carolina
black chokecherry - restricted to the western portion of North America; occurs in southern Canada from eastern British Columbia to Alberta and the Dakotas; southward throughout the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico; and along the east slope of the Cascade Range to northern California
western chokecherry - occurs from British Columbia southward into northern Mexico, Texas, and California (except the coast and Central Valley)
Distribution: Chokecherry is found in all but eight states or territories. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.
Chokecherry is a native, deciduous, thicket-forming erect shrub or small tree. Stems are numerous and slender, either branching from the base or with main branches upright and spreading . Heights vary considerably according to variety and site quality, ranging from 3 to 19.5 feet (1-6 m) . In the Great Basin, chokecherry may grow to almost 40 feet (12 m) with trunk diameters of approximately 8 inches (20 cm) . Perfect flowers are borne on leafy twigs of the season. Fruits are drupes, each containing a small stone . Chokecherries have a network of rhizomes and a deep root system established at intervals along the rhizomes [129,140,175]. Roots may extend laterally more than 35 feet (10.6 m) and vertically more than 6 feet (1.8 m) . Rhizomes range from 0.4 to 0.8 inch (1-2 cm) in diameter .
Key Plant Community Associations
The 3 chokecherry varieties occur in numerous habitat types and plant communities. Chokecherry often forms mixed stands with other tall shrubs. Common plant associates of chokecherry in some areas are listed below by state or province.
Idaho: Associated tall shrubs on logged sites in a northern Idaho western redcedar-western hemlock (Thuja plicata-Tsuga heterophylla) zone include Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum), Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), redstem ceanothus (Ceanothus sanguineus), snowbrush ceanothus (C. velutinus), dogwood (Cornus spp.), oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor), mockorange (Philadelphus lewisii), ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus), bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata), cascara (Rhamnus purshiana), Scouler willow (Salix scouleriana), and red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) . In southern and central Idaho, chokecherry occurs in a number of Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca) habitat types, along with Pacific ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa), Rocky Mountain maple and quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) .
Michigan: Chokecherry occurs in northern Lake Michigan coastal sand dune communities that range from 175 to 835 years old, but is most prevalent in communities 225 to 400 years old. Associated overstory dominants in mixed-pine forests in a similar 200-400 year range include balsam fir (Abies balsamifera), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), red pine (Pinus resinosa), white pine (Pinus strobus), white spruce (Picea strobus), and northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis) . In northern white-cedar forests in lower northern Michigan, important plant associates are sugar maple (Acer saccharum), white ash (Fraxinus americana), mountain maple (Acer spicatum), paper birch, basswood (Tilia americana), alternate-leaved dogwood (C. alternifolia), ironwood (Ostrya virginiana) and balsam fir .
Minnesota: Northeastern forests: overstory species include quaking aspen, bigtooth aspen (Populus grandidentata), red pine, and jack pine (Pinus banksiana). Common tall shrub species include mountain maple, American green alder (Alnus viridis ssp. crispa), alternate-leaf dogwood, round-leaved dogwood (C. rugosa) and serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) .
In the northwestern forest and transition zones of Minnesota, overstory associates include bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), American elm (Ulmus americana), basswood, sugar maple, green ash, quaking aspen, paper birch, ironwood, and balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera). Common shrub associates include smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), dogwood (Cornus spp.), black cherry (Prunus serotina), and sugar maple. [31,47].
In Minnesota oak (Quercus spp.) savanna overstory dominants include bur oak and pin oak (Q. ellipsoidalis). Shrubs commonly associated with chokecherry include smooth sumac and American hazel (Corylus americana) .
Montana: Plant associates in riparian sites in western and central Montana include Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir, Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), Pacific ponderosa pine, big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), western snowberry (Symphoricarpos occidentalis) and ninebark [46,66,119]. In eastern Montana hardwood forests that extend into the Dakotas, chokecherry occurs commonly with green ash, plains cottonwood (Populus deltoides var. monilifera), American elm, and box elder (Acer negundo) [64,66,98,119].
Nevada and Utah; Dominant associated shrubs in sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) rangelands in northeastern Nevada and mountain brush communities in Utah include Saskatoon serviceberry, shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia), rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus), green rabbitbrush (C. viscidiflorus), antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), mountain snowberry (Symphoricarpos oreophilus), Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii), Wood's rose (Rosa woodsii), ninebark, curlleaf mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius), Rocky Mountain juniper, Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir, and white fir (Abies concolor). [11,33,79,90].
North Carolina: In a red spruce-Fraser fir (Picea rubens-Abies fraseri) forest in the Plott Balsam Mountains, chokecherry occurs with pin cherry, American mountain-ash (Sorbus americana), mountain maple, alternate-leaf dogwood, red maple (Acer rubrum), and willow (Salix spp.) species .
North Dakota: Chokecherry occurs in Missouri river slopes, floodplains, and also western woodlands. Tree associates are green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), box elder, American elm, bur oak, basswood, quaking aspen, paper birch, Rocky Mountain juniper, ponderosa pine, and limber pine (Pinus
flexilis). Common shrubs and woody vines in the floodplains include peach-leaved willow (S. amygdaloides), dogwood, western snowberry (Symphoricarpos occidentalis), eastern poison-ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), Saskatoon serviceberry, woodbine (Parthenocissus inserta), and frost grape (Vitis vulpina) [56,64,82,98,171].
Pennsylvania: In central Pennsylvania mixed-oak valley floor forests, dominant species associated with chokecherry are white oak (Q. alba), red oak (Q. rubra), black oak (Q. velutina) and black cherry .
South Dakota and Wyoming: Hoffman and Alexander  describe a ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa var. scopulorum/chokecherry community type occurring on the Black Hills National Forest. Important associates in this community are Saskatoon serviceberry, white spirea (Spirea betulifolia), and Oregon-grape (Mahonia repens). The authors list chokecherry as an important component in bur oak, ponderosa pine and quaking aspen series of habitat types. River drainage species in green ash/chokecherry habitats are similar to those listed for North Dakota.
Vermont: In the Green Mountains chokecherry occurs where common overstory trees are sugar maple, American beech (Fagus grandifolia), yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), red spruce, and balsam fir. Abundant understory shrub associates include striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), mountain maple, pin cherry (P. pensylvanica), and American mountain-ash .
Wisconsin: In southwestern oak-hickory (Quercus-Carya spp.) forests (where replacement of oaks by others species is a recognized problem), chokecherry occurs where dominant overstory species include sugar maple, green ash, and slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) .
Chokecherry is listed as a dominant or indicator species in the following published classifications:
A preliminary classification of the natural vegetation of Colorado 
Vegetation and soils of the Rock Springs Watershed 
Native woodland ecology and habitat classification of southwestern North
The vegetation of the Grand River/Cedar River, Sioux, and Ashland Districts of the Custer National Forest: a habitat type classification 
The vegetation of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota: a habitat type classification 
Classification and Management of Montana's riparian and wetland sites 
Grassland, shrubland, and forestland habitat types of the White
River-Arapaho National Forest 
Habitat types on selected parts of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre National
Aspen community types on the Caribou and Targhee National Forests in
southeastern Idaho 
Forest habitat types of Montana 
Rangeland cover types of the United States 
Plant associations (habitat types) of Region 2., 3rd ed. 
Aspen community types on the Bridger-Teton National Forest in western
Habitat: Rangeland Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following Rangeland Cover Types (as classified by the Society for Range Management, SRM):
107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
201 Blue oak woodland
203 Riparian woodland
206 Chamise chaparral
207 Scrub oak mixed chaparral
208 Ceanothus mixed chaparral
209 Montane shrubland
302 Bluebunch wheatgrass-Sandberg bluegrass
303 Bluebunch wheatgrass-western wheatgrass
306 Idaho fescue-slender wheatgrass
312 Rough fescue-Idaho fescue
314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
315 Big sagebrush-Idaho fescue
317 Bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
322 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany-bluebunch wheatgrass
401 Basin big sagebrush
402 Mountain big sagebrush
403 Wyoming big sagebrush
404 Black sagebrush
405 Low sagebrush
408 Other sagebrush types
409 Tall forb
411 Aspen woodland
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
418 Bigtooth maple
503 Arizona chaparral
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
603 Prairie sandreed-needlegrass
710 Bluestem prairie
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K002 Cedar-hemlock-Douglas-fir forest
K003 Silver fir-Douglas-fir forest
K005 Mixed conifer forest
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K013 Cedar-hemlock-pine forest
K014 Grand fir-Douglas-fir forest
K015 Western spruce-fir forest
K016 Eastern ponderosa forest
K017 Black Hills pine forest
K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest
K019 Arizona pine forest
K020 Spruce-fir-Douglas-fir forest
K021 Southwestern spruce-fir forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K026 Oregon oakwoods
K028 Mosaic of K002 and K026
K029 California mixed evergreen forest
K030 California oakwoods
K034 Montane chaparral
K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K055 Sagebrush steppe
K063 Foothills prairie
K065 Grama-buffalo grass
K068 Wheatgrass-grama-buffalo grass
K074 Bluestem prairie
K081 Oak savanna
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K097 Southeastern spruce-fir forest
K098 Northern floodplain forest
K099 Maple-basswood forest
K101 Elm-ash forest
K102 Beech-maple forest
K103 Mixed mesophytic forest
K106 Northern hardwoods
K107 Northern hardwoods-fir forest
K108 Northern hardwoods-spruce forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES10 White-red-jack pine
FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES38 Plains grasslands
Chokecherry grows in very acid to moderately alkaline soils. In the green ash/chokecherry habitat type in the northern Great Plains, pH ranged from 6.0 to 7.6 in loam, clay, and clay loam [65,163]. In deciduous forests in Vermont, glacial till soils supporting chokecherry had a pH ranging from 3.5 to 5.5 . Where chokecherry occurred in forests growing on coastal Lake Michigan sand dunes, pH ranged from approximately 4.0 to 6.0 . In Pennsylvania, soils in oak-pine supporting chokecherry grew on well-drained limestone residuum soil and had a pH range from 4.8 to 5.4 .
Elevational ranges for chokecherry are:
Idaho: 3,100 to 8,000 feet (945-2440 m) [143,173]
Michigan: 580 to 738 feet (177-225 m) 
Montana: 580 to 738 feet (177-225 m) [46,66,119]
Nevada and Utah: 4,986 to 10,170 feet (1520-3100 m) [11,33,79,90]
North Dakota: 1,023 to 1,095 feet (312-334 m) 
South Dakota: 3,002 to 3,494 feet (915-1065 m) 
Vermont: 1,797 to 2,798 feet (548-853 m) 
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
1 Jack pine
5 Balsam fir
14 Northern pin oak
15 Red pine
17 Pin cherry
18 Paper birch
19 Gray birch-red maple
20 White pine-northern red oak-red maple
21 Eastern white pine
22 White pine-hemlock
23 Eastern hemlock
24 Hemlock-yellow birch
25 Sugar maple-beech-yellow birch
26 Sugar maple-basswood
27 Sugar maple
28 Black cherry-maple
40 Post oak-blackjack oak
42 Bur oak
60 Beech-sugar maple
80 Loblolly pine-shortleaf pine
81 Loblolly pine
82 Loblolly pine-hardwood
93 Sugarberry-American elm-green ash
108 Red maple
206 Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir
210 Interior Douglas-fir
211 White fir
212 Western larch
213 Grand fir
216 Blue spruce
218 Lodgepole pine
219 Limber pine
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
222 Black cottonwood-willow
229 Pacific Douglas-fir
230 Douglas-fir-western hemlock
233 Oregon white oak
234 Douglas-fir-tanoak-Pacific madrone
236 Bur oak
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
243 Sierra Nevada mixed conifer
245 Pacific ponderosa pine
244 Pacific ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir
247 Jeffrey pine
Nursery grown seedlings establish satisfactorily if planted free of competition in areas having 15 or more inches of annual precipitation. If seeds are planted in the spring they should be pre-chilled for 3 months, then placed about 1/2 inch deep. Saplings are not tolerant of weedy competition for 2 to 3 years after planting. Use of weed barrier mat, a strict cultivation regime, or proper herbicide treatment is necessary if a successful planting is to occur. Check with your local NRCS Field Office to determine if chokecherry is adapted to your area or soils before planting any trees.
Flower-Visiting Insects of Chokecherry in Illinois
(bees suck nectar or collect pollen; information is restricted to Andrenid bees; observations are from Krombein et al.)
Andrenidae (Andreninae): Andrena erythrogaster, Andrena forbesii, Andrena hippotes, Andrena imitatrix imitatrix, Andrena miranda, Andrena nigrae, Andrena nuda, Andrena perplexa, Andrena rugosa, Andrena sigmundi
Fire Management Considerations
Chokecherry is a component of persistent, fire-maintained seral shrubfields on steep slopes in Northern Idaho. Fuels in shrubfields differ in quantity and distribution from those on forested sites. Herbaceous and large woody fuels are relatively light. Live and dead shrub biomass, which includes chokecherry, can reach nearly 20 tons per acre. After fires, which are severe during summer drought conditions, dense shrub cover regenerates within 10 years. Trees regenerate slowly or not at all on these dry sites, because of erosion, depleted soil organic matter, high soil temperatures, and lack of seed .
Arno  hypothesized that relatively frequent fires set by Native Americans in western grassland and sagebrush communities, where chokecherry occurs, favored expansion of grasslands into adjacent shrub or tree communities. In recent times shrub and tree communities have developed in former grasslands due to fire exclusion and grazing. Arno argues that baseline information on Native American use of fire will aid land managers in predicting vegetative development under different FIRE REGIMES.
Morber and Miyanishi  studied fire as a tool for controlling chokecherry and black cherry in Ontario oak savanna. A controlled spring burn had no effect on chokecherry seedlings. Postfire seedling emergence was concluded to be largely dependent on postfire seed production or seed influx from adjacent unburned areas, because there was no viable soil seedbank.
Broad-scale Impacts of Plant Response to Fire
The Research Project Summaries
Understory recovery after low- and high-intensity fires in northern Idaho ponderosa pine forests and Understory recovery after burning
and reburning quaking aspen stands in central Alberta, and the Research Paper by Bowles and others 2007
provide information on prescribed fire and postfire response of several plant species
Plant Response to Fire
Most studies report either an increase in chokecherry in the years following fire, or an increase followed by a return to prefire numbers. After wildfires in the oakbrush zone in Utah, McKell  reported twice as many chokecherry stems sprouting from root crowns on 1-year-old burns than on adjacent unburned sites. A reduction to prefire densities occurred within 18 years.
Following wildfires in Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir/Rocky Mountain juniper/Wyoming big sagebrush associations in the Missouri Breaks area of central Montana, chokecherry canopy cover increased consistently for 13 years, then stabilized .
Bock and Bock  compared data from prescribed October burns in 1974 and 1979 in the South Dakota Black Hills. The 1974 burn escaped and became a crown fire, killing ponderosa pines of all sizes. The 1979 fire remained a controlled understory fire. When measured in 1981, the 1974 burn site supported higher densities of all woody taxa except chokecherry and western poison-ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii). There was no significant difference (P = 0.71) in numbers of chokecherry plants between the 2 burn sites. Measurements taken within the 1979 surface fire site (prefire, postfire yr 1, and postfire yr 2) showed that chokecherry stems were not significantly (P = 0.75) reduced by the fire.
Geier-Hayes  included chokecherry in a study of vegetation response to helicopter logging and broadcast burning in an Idaho Douglas-fir forest. Data were collected in 3 cutting units prior to burning and 1,2,5 and 10 years after. Fire severity was higher in 2 of the units and altered the vegetation from the original. Fires classed at a severity level of 2M  were less severe and had little or no impact on chokecherry percent cover and root frequency. 2M fires are characterized as having a flame length of 2 to 4 feet (0.6-1.2 m) and a corresponding crown scorch height of 9 to 24 feet (2.7-7.3 m), with moderate ground charring. The units that burned hotter, having a severity rating of 3M had markedly less chokecherry cover and root frequency during all postburn years measured. 3M fires have flame lengths of 8 to 12 feet (2.4-3.7 m), corresponding crown scorch to 64 feet (20 m), with moderate ground charring.
Following a September prescribed burn in a quaking aspen stand in Idaho, chokecherry biomass exceeded preburn biomass within 2 seasons and was double preburn biomass after 5 seasons . Biomass was computed using weight versus stem diameter relationships . Details of fuel conditions are provided: litter and woody material moisture content was 8 to 9% and herbaceous vegetation was 40 to 50% cured. Fire severity was rated as moderate to high .
After 24 years of annual early spring burning in quaking aspen parklands in Alberta, chokecherry percent cover had decreased but the number of stems increased in density from 6% to 15% .
In a 20-year study of the effects of fire frequency on Minnesota oak savanna herbs and shrubs, Tester [150,151] determined that increased fire frequency tended to increase the density of native, true prairie shrubs and decrease the density of native, non-prairie shrubs (including chokecherry). Chokecherry cover estimates were negatively correlated with burn frequency (r = -0.51, P = 0.09).
Immediate Effect of Fire
Fire often kills aboveground chokecherry stems and foliage, but it quickly sprouts, either the same year following a spring burn, or by the next growing season [97,105,162,166,177]. In the South Dakota Black Hills chokecherry sprouts were double the preburn numbers within 2 months of an early May burn . Conversely, in an early May prescribed burn in central Alberta quaking aspen parkland, chokecherry shrubs did not sprout within the first 3 months following burning . Fire intensity was not described for either study.
A prescribed fire study was conducted in northern Idaho to test the effect of spring versus fall burning on elk browse. Measurements were made of crown diameter, crown height, number of basal sprouts, and sprout height before and after each burn. Postfire measurements were made on 11 shrubs the first growing season after the fall burns. Seasonal fire effects were similar for chokecherry crown diameter, crown height, and sprout height. Though not statistically significant (at P = 0.05), the number of chokecherry basal sprouts was somewhat higher after the spring burn, suggesting that spring burning may be more conducive to the rapid recovery of chokecherry than fall burning .
Tree with adventitious-bud root crown/soboliferous species root sucker
Tall shrub, adventitious-bud root crown
Small shrub, adventitious-bud root crown
Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)
Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)
Chokecherry is well adapted to disturbance by fire [5,25,52,97,105,174,177]. Although susceptible to to top-kill by fire, it resprouts rapidly and prolifically from surviving root crowns and rhizomes [51,97,105,162,166]. Several studies reporting chokecherry recovery by sprouting are discussed in the Fire Effects section of this report. Seed germination improves with heat treatment, suggesting scarification by fire is an important adaptation . Postfire regeneration probably also involves the germination of off-site seed dispersed by mammals and birds .
No data were found for natural intervals of fire in stands that consist mainly of chokecherry. Gartner  provides a description of pre and post-settlement accounts of fire in the grasslands and ponderosa forests of the Black Hills of South Dakota. The historical information is detailed, but fire return intervals are not given. Hansen  provides limited historical and fire interval information for Minnesota forests in Isle Royale National Park, Itasca State Park, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Twenty-six lighting fires were recorded on Isle Royale from 1965 to 1949. In Itasca State Park the incidence of fires caused by lighting or set by Indians before 1859 averaged about one fire every 12 years. In the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, major fires recurred at 5- to 50-year intervals from 1600 to 1920.
FIRE REGIMES for other plant communities in which chokecherry occurs are summarized below. For further information regarding FIRE REGIMES and fire ecology of communities where chokecherry is found, see the Fire Ecology and Adaptations section of the FEIS species summary for the plant community or ecosystem dominants.
|Community or Ecosystem||Scientific Name of Dominant Species||Mean Fire Return Interval|
|Pacific ponderosa pine*||Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa||1-47 yrs|
|Rocky Mountain ponderosa pine*||P. ponderosa var. scopulorum||2-10 yrs |
|Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine*||P. contorta var. latifolia||50-300+ yrs [6,125]|
|Colorado pinyon||P. edulis||10-49 yrs|
|Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir*||Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca||40-140 yrs |
|Wyoming big sagebrush||Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis||10-70 yrs [161,176]|
|mountain big sagebrush||A. tridentata var. vaseyana||5-15 yrs|
|curlleaf mountain-mahogany*||Cercocarpus ledifolius||13-1,350 yrs [9,132]|
|quaking aspen (west of the Great Plains)||Populus tremuloides||7-100 yrs [61,106]|
More info for the terms: association, climax, cover, density, hardwood, series, severity, shrub, shrubs, succession, tree, wildfire
Because chokecherry occurs so widely, it is reported in numerous habitat types and plant associations that range from post-disturbance invaders to early-successional to climax or stable. It grows in sparse stands, dense thickets, and under open forest canopies [64,66,116,119]. It is shade tolerant [31,64,99,100], but reaches its greatest density near forest edges [64,65]. Plant association descriptions for most the studies discussed below appear in the Distribution and Occurrence section of this species report.
EASTERN AND CENTRAL REGION-
In the eastern and central region of the U.S. and Canada, chokecherry occurs in a broad range of successional habitats. It been studied in both seral and climax or stable communities. It sprouts readily and also persists under open and closed forest canopies.
Chokecherry was characterized as early-successional following logging and (or) burning in northern white-cedar and jack pine forests in Michigan . Chokecherry was mid-successional in coastal Lake Michigan chronosequences that focused on long-term vegetation succession on sand dunes, reaching its greatest abundance after pine and oak cover was well developed [99,117].
In Pennsylvania mixed-oak forests chokecherry was described as a later-successional understory species where the overstory is dominated by oak and pine .
In a 1924 study of succession in northwestern Minnesota chokecherry was prominent in non-climax brush stands in ecotones between prairie and deciduous forests . In a 1951 study in northern Minnesota chokecherry was noted as a major component in the sparse shrub layer of a climax maple-basswood forest. The maple-basswood forest was characterized as having light penetration of less than 5%, indicating shade tolerance, at least in mature chokecherry .
In a 1964 study in Vermont, chokecherry was one of 14 shrub species documented in the understory of an old, undisturbed remnant of northern hardwood forest. Sugar maple, beech, and white ash were overstory dominants. The authors predicted that this assemblage replaces itself in forest succession, creating a stable overstory community .
In Ontario, following forest clearcutting and brush removal for a utility right-of-way, chokecherry was a prominent initial colonizer. The original forest cover was dominated by sugar maple, white ash, quaking aspen and black cherry. In addition to abundant chokecherry seedlings, raspberry (Rubus spp.) seedlings and sprouts, and sprouts from quaking aspen were also prolific initial colonizers. After 6 years chokecherry and quaking aspen stems had declined and white ash stems had become most numerous. The author indicated that rapid invasion by chokecherry and raspberry, followed by replacement with more shade-tolerant species was a common pattern of secondary succession .
In southern and western North Dakota chokecherry is an indicator species for the green ash/chokecherry woodland habitat type [64,65]. This habitat type is characterized as a topographic climax. Where disturbance from livestock grazing is heavy, shrub cover is greatly reduced and unpalatable western snowberry becomes dominant. Tree seedlings and saplings decline, leaving only older trees and an open understory . In southern North Dakota chokecherry is an indicator species for the interior ponderosa pine/chokecherry habitat type, determined to be an edaphic climax. In undisturbed vegetation of this type, ponderosa pine forms a closed overstory and chokecherry shrubs reach about 3.28 feet (1 m) in height. Chokecherry responds to fire in these stands by sprouting vegetatively, and as succession advances following fire, chokecherry gradually increases while other shrubs decrease . The green ash/chokecherry and interior ponderosa pine/chokecherry habitat types also occur in South Dakota and eastern Montana [64,66,77,119].
In the western United States, chokecherry is usually identified as seral but persists under closed canopies in mature conifer forests and in riparian areas. Central Rocky Mountain quaking aspen stands, where chokecherry is prevalent in the tall shrub layer, are thought to be a regional transition zone between sporadic groves and extensive forests. The quaking aspen/chokecherry community is categorized as seral .
In a classification of forest habitats of Montana , chokecherry is documented in numerous habitat types within forest climax series for limber pine, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, and Engelmann spruce. In that classification it is also an indicator species for a ponderosa pine/chokecherry type present in eastern Montana (see discussion in North Dakota section above). In river drainages of central Montana, Eichorn and Watts  studied succession following wildfire. In burned north-slope sites characterized by a Douglas-fir/common juniper association, chokecherry, snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.) and rose (Rosa spp.) were predominant among shrubs that increased significantly (P less than 0.05) in years 5 through 28 following burning. In Douglas-fir habitat types in western Montana, chokecherry becomes common after stand-replacing wildfires and clearcuts with or without subsequent broadcast burns .
In central Idaho chokecherry is classified by Steele and Geier-Hayes  as mid-seral in 7 Douglas-fir habitat types. Though seral to Douglas-fir climax forests, these sites may be dominated by open-canopy stands of fire-maintained ponderosa pine. Chokecherry may regenerate vegetatively or by seed following logging or burning, depending on the type and severity of the disturbance.
In a central Utah study, Christensen  reported that although mountain brush stands are often interpreted as stable, chokecherry was among 10 shrub species in a mountain brush stand undergoing transition to a conifer stand dominated by white fir and Douglas-fir. The author interpreted the transition as primary succession because no evidence was found of disturbance by livestock use, fire or logging. Chokecherry is common in Gambel oak communities in Utah, which Kunzler and others  predicted might succeed to ponderosa pine, bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum), or white fir and Douglas-fir, depending on site conditions. Chokecherry is common in northern Utah quaking aspen stands, which are reported to succeed to conifer stands . In a study of early succession following clearcutting of quaking aspen, chokecherry and snowberry were "by far" the most dominant shrubs in uncut control plots. In the 4 years following clearcutting, percent composition of chokecherry in the undergrowth increased by much as 5 times over that in the control plots. The authors did not indicate the method of chokecherry regeneration in the clearcuts .
Chokecherry reproduces sexually and vegetatively. In laboratory experiments involving excised rhizomes which were approximately 11 years of age, Schier  observed that chokecherry rhizomes sprouted at a faster rate and had higher sprouting percentages than Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii) rhizomes.
Seed crops are typically regular and viable , with seed-producing capacity higher in plants on open sites . Seeds are surrounded by a stony endocarp that may offer some resistance to germination but is permeable to moisture. Chokecherry has seed dormancy; an after-ripening period in the presence of oxygen and moisture is necessary for adequate germination .
Rogers and Applegate  reported significantly (P less than 0.01) enhanced germination in chokecherry seeds ingested by black bears in Minnesota and attributed this to acid and mechanical scarification of seeds in the digestive tract.
Although large numbers of chokecherry seeds may be deposited beneath parent plants, long-distance dispersal also occurs via frugivorous birds and mammals [86,167,170,172]. Meyer and Witmer  studied the effect of gut-scarification on chokecherry seeds fed to captive frugivorous birds. Removal of fruit pulp was critical for germination, but they found no differences in germination success between seeds manually cleaned of pulp and bird-passed seeds lacking pulp. Seeds of chokecherry that were defecated and planted with feces, mimicking natural deposition, had reduced germination relative to manually cleaned seeds. Artificial seed treatments to enhance germination are discussed in the Value and Use section of this report.
Viable seed persists in the soil seedbank. In a closed-canopy forest in northern Idaho, chokecherry seeds were found in soil samples taken at depths of up to 4 inches (10 cm); overall seed viability equaled approximately 27% .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Life History and Behavior
Generally chokecherry plants leaf out in spring to early summer and flower 1 to 3 weeks later, with fruits maturing in late summer to fall . Fruits dehisce soon after maturity . Average date of phenological stages for chokecherry east and west of the Continental Divide in Montana from 1928 to 1937 are presented below : East Divide West Divide leaf buds burst May 2 April 29 leaves full grown June 11 May 17 flowers start June 4 May 19 flowers end June 17 June 11 fruits ripe August 22 August 14 leaves start to color August 31 September 15 leaves begin to fall September 10 September 28 seed fall starts September 12 September 19 leaves fallen/withered September 30 October 14
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Prunus virginiana
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Prunus virginiana
Public Records: 14
Specimens with Barcodes: 25
Species With Barcodes: 1
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Prunus virginiana L.
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Widespread throughout North America except for southeast, locally common (can be monotypic) in open woodlands, prairie hillsides, rocky bluffs, canyons, roadsides, streams, and springs. Intolerant of flooding.
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).
Comments: Threatened by land-use conversion, habitat fragmentation, and forest management practices (Southern Appalachian Species Viability Project 2002).
Pests and potential problems
Chokecherry is susceptible to X-disease, black knot, stem decay, shothole, Valsa canker, and honey fungus Plowrightia stansburiana. Common insect
s pests are the prairie tent caterpillar, eastern tent caterpillar and aphids. In the northeastern United States, chokecherry is a primary host of the eastern tent caterpillar. Browsing by deer on young immature trees causes considerable damage in some areas.
Grazing: Chokecherry is moderately tolerant of browsing , but heavy grazing by livestock and wild ungulates has impacted populations in many areas, especially the northern Great Plains [64,65,81,98,179].
Chokecherry foliage can be poisonous to grazing livestock [78,106,116,153]. Research has identified the toxic compound in chokecherry as the cyanogenic glycoside prunasin . One-half gram of prunasin can produce approximately 46 mg of hydrogen cyanide (HCN); daily doses of 50 mg HCN/1 kg body weight are considered dangerous. Hydrogen cyanide is liberated either in the
plant as a result of frost damage or in the animal during digestion.
Results of that study indicated that prunasin concentrations are highest (5%) in the new stems and newly initiated leaves of chokecherry.
Elevated levels (greater than 2.5%) are maintained in the leaves throughout
the summer, but prunasin content of new twigs gradually diminishes over
the season. The previous season's growth is generally not as toxic
(1.2 to 2.2%) .
Chokecherry is susceptible to attack by the fungus Plowrightia
stansburiana, which causes knotlike cankers to develop on stems. This
condition eventually kills infected stems . Afflicted plants
usually have a shortened life span .
Please contact your local agricultural extension specialist or county weed specialist to learn what works best in your area and how to use it safely. Always read label and safety instructions for each control method. Trade names and control measures appear in this document only to provide specific information. USDA, NRCS does not guarantee or warranty the products and control methods named, and other products may be equally effective.
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
Planting materials can be obtained from most commercial hardwood nurseries and seed sources. Several cultivars have been released by government agencies and private nurseries for use in landscaping and/or fruit production. The two most commonly marketed cultivars are 'Schubert', and 'Canada Red'. A lot of literature states that these two cultivars are the same one with just different names. This is not the entire truth. 'Schubert' is one of the oldest cultivars. Its parent rootstock is Prunus virginiana melanocarpa selected from a native stand near Valley City, North Dakota. It was released by the Oscar Will Nursery which was located in Bismarck. 'Canada Red' was created by grafting 'Schubert' on Mayday rootstock to get rid of the suckering trait. Releases from Canada include, 'Garrington', 'Goertz' and 'Robert'.
Chokecherry can be propagated by seed, rhizome cuttings, suckers, crown division, semi-hardwood cuttings and grafting. Generally, seed crops are regular and viable. The flowers are more abundant and more fruit is produced on plants growing on open sites or in forest clearings. Natural dispersal of the seed occurs when it passes through the digestive tracts of mammals and birds. The seeds may be carried a long distance from the parent plant in this manner. If the rhizomatous roots are damaged due to a mechanical injury suckers will be produced. This is often how thickets are formed. A fire initially causes major damage to a stand of chokecherry. However, regrowth is enhanced for several years following a burn. It sprouts vigorously from surviving root crowns and suckers arise from the rhizomes.
Chokecherry has seed dormancy. About half of the seed which is not stratified germinates within a couple of months. Delayed germination may occur up to 4 months. An after-ripening period in the presence of oxygen and moisture is needed for a majority of seed to germinate. Good germination can only be expected after a cool, moist stratification regime lasting 90 to 160 days at 36 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Sow 25 seeds per foot of drill row. One- year-old bareroot stock should be planted on deep, well-drained soils in sunny locations.
The leaves, bark, stem, and stone (seed pit) of chokecherry are all toxic. It is potentially poisonous to all classes of livestock, but cattle and sheep are the ones commonly affected. The meaty flesh of the fruit is not toxic.
Hydrocyanic acid (HCN) is often called Prussic acid. HCN does not occur freely as a plant compound. It is formed only after disruption of the plant cell, either by mechanical injury or a sudden freeze. Only then do the degradative enzymes (hydroxynitrile lyases) and glycoside come into contact and mix together. HCN acid occurs in greatest amounts in the leaves. Generally, the amount of HCN in the leaves lessens as the growing season progresses. By autumn chokecherry leaves have so little glycoside, a component of HCN, they are not normally considered hazardous. Drought stress may cause the leaves to concentrate the glycoside in heavier amounts than usual. Wilted leaves are more toxic per unit weight due to dehydration, which concentrates the components, which make up HCN. HCN is so toxic at low levels because it inhibits blood cells from absorbing oxygen. One symptom of HCN poisoning is the blood turns bright red when exposed to the air and it clots abnormally slow.
Cyanogenic glycosides (prunasin, produced in the leaves and twigs, and amygdalin, produced in the stone) are the building blocks for HCN. Of the two, prunasin is found in a much larger quantity. HCN is most commonly formed in the plant due to mechanical injury (such as browsing), a sudden change in temperature (an early and heavy frost) or in the animal during digestion. The glycosides can either be hydrolyzed by enzymes in the plants or by rumen microorganisms. The glycosides occur in vacuoles in plant tissue while the enzymes are found in the cytosol.
Ingestion of about 0.25 percent of an animal's body weight, or 50 milligrams/kilogram of body weight, is the Lethal Dose of fifty percent of animals (LD50). This means less than 4 ounces of fresh leaves can be toxic to a 100 pound animal.
Poisoning generally occurs when animals graze this amount or more in an hour or less. Formation of HCN must occur primarily within the short time between the mastication of the forage and its arrival in the stomach, for the acidic contents of the stomach slows down the reaction of the chemical process which creates the HCN. The toxic elements become even more active if the animal drinks water immediately after browsing. HCN works so quickly by the time poisoning symptoms are identified it is generally too late to treat. Injection of a combination of sodium thiosulfate and sodium nitrite in the veins or peritoneum is the recommended antidote. Oxidizing substances such as potassium permanganate or hydrogen peroxide given as a drench may help some. Any other medications promoting respiratory help and nerve stimulants may also contribute to recovery. For any treatment to be effective it must be given immediately upon symptoms of poisoning.
Removing livestock from the HCN source is the only practical way to prevent mass poisoning and numerous losses once it has been detected. Good livestock management includes keeping hungry livestock away from areas where chokecherry is abundant. Maintaining a good level of preferred forage in pastures will do a great deal in preventing HCN poisoning.
When a person eats a single apple seed or cherry pit, though not recommended, it is unlikely to cause discomfort or serious illness. However, there have been reported deaths, usually of children chewing on the stems and leaves, or swallowing the stones. Visible reactions to poisoning may include; anxiety; uneasiness; confusion; dizziness; vertigo; headache; nausea; vomiting; the lips turn blue; bloating; dilation of the eyes; muscular weakness; abnormal breathing, either very labored or very rapid; paralysis of the throat; irregular heart beat; convulsions; coma ensues and finally death. Clinically, death results from the general anoxic state created by the inhibition of cytochrome oxidase.
Management of chokecherry will be dependent on whether it is looked upon as a desirable or undesirable plant. On range and pastures it is often considered a potential hazard to livestock. As a consequence either mechanical and/or herbicide treatments combined with good grassland management is needed to prevent animal loss. When it is used in windbreaks, as an ornamental plant or as a wildlife resource it is beneficial. Control of weedy vegetation, and treatment for potential diseases, is necessary if it is expected to grow for an extended period of years
This plant may become weedy or invasive in some regions or habitats and may displace more desirable vegetation if not properly managed. Please consult with your local NRCS Field Office, Cooperative Extension Service office, or state natural resource or agriculture department regarding its status and use. Weed information is also available from the PLANTS Web site.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Other uses and values
Chokecherry plants are widely used as ornamentals. Chokecherry produces an abundance of attractive white flowers characterized by a strong, sweet, almondlike fragrance. This species is also valued for its fruit. Plantings increase habitat and natural food supplies for birds frequenting residential areas. Chokecherry is extensively planted for windbreaks in the prairie, plains, and western mountains . Chokecherries are edible and, although somewhat astringent, are relatively sweet when fully ripe. Fruits are used to make wines, syrups, jellies, and jams. Indigenous peoples gathered chokecherries and used them to make pemmican and treat cold sores [68,84,147]. The Piutes made a medicinal tea from the leaves and twigs to treat colds and rheumatism .
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
Chokecherry has been selected as a revegetation species for wildlife habitat [110,127,166], shelterbelts , mine spoils , and soil stabilization [102,104,131]. Chokecherry exhibited salt tolerance in a greenhouse study .
Chokecherry can be propagated from seed or rhizome cuttings [60,91,102,108,129,134,166]. About half of unstratified seed germinates within 60 days of collection; delayed germination can occur up to 120 days of sowing . More consistent germination is achieved following cool, moist stratification lasting from 120 to 160 days at 36 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit (2.2-5 oC) [60,108,109]. In a heat-treatment field study, using thermocouples inserted into seedcoats, chokecherry germination was doubled to quadrupled by temperatures ranging from 180 to 280 degrees Fahrenheit (82-138 oC).
Nursery-grown seedlings of chokecherry establish satisfactorily if planted free of competition on sites with at least 15 inches (38 cm) of annual precipitation. Young plants are not tolerant of competing vegetation for 2 to 3 years following planting .
Chokecherry provides important cover and habitat for many bird species [115,116,117,118,119,120,121,122,123,124], small mammals [4,44,55,139,146,165], large mammals, and livestock [16,24,45,65,66,159]. Chokecherry is an excellent shrub for providing thermal cover and erosion control in fisheries . The degree to which chokecherry provides cover for wildlife species is as follows : CO MT ND UT WY Pronghorn ---- Fair Good Poor Fair Elk Good Fair ---- Good Good Mule deer Good Good Good Good Good White-tailed deer Good Good Good ---- Good Small mammals Good Good ---- Good Good Small nongame birds Good Good Good Good Good Upland game birds Good Good Good Good Good Waterfowl ---- ---- ---- Poor Poor
with that of other western browse species [19,88,168]. It has 38.8% dry matter digestibility and is 8.7% crude protein . Crude protein
levels do not appreciably decrease as winter progresses . Dittberner
and Olson  rate chokecherry good in energy value and poor in protein
Seasonal trends in the nutritive content of chokecherry leaves and stems in the Black
Hills of South Dakota are presented below. Units are in percent, on an oven-dry basis . Spring Summer Fall
leaves/stems leaves/stems leaves/stems
crude protein 21.9/17.4 15.2/9.5 6.6/8.8
cellulose 12.3/19.7 12.6/22.8 14.7/24.2
ash 5.9/5.4 6.2/4.3 6.1/3.0
calcium 1.12/0.9 1.8/1.5 2.33/1.66
phosphorus 0.51/0.41 0.39/0.21 0.37/0.21
although it is more heavily browsed by domestic sheep than by cattle [36,140].
It is a preferred mule deer browse on many winter ranges throughout the Intermountain West and Northern Great Plains [39,42].
The palatability of chokecherry to livestock and wildlife has been rated as follows : CO MT ND UT WY
Cattle Fair Fair Fair Fair Fair
Domestic sheep Good Good Good Fair Good
Horses Poor Poor ---- Poor Poor
Pronghorn ---- ---- Good Poor Poor
Elk Poor Fair ---- Good Fair
Mule deer Fair Fair Good Good Good
Small mammals Good Good ---- Good Good
Small nongame birds Good Good ---- Good Good
Upland game birds Fair Good Good Good Good
Waterfowl ---- ---- ---- Poor Poor
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
Wood Products Value
Many people do not realize cherry and some other very important commercial fruit trees (apple, peach, plum, apricot, nectarines, and almonds) are in the rose family. Anthropologists indicate cherries have been harvested in Eurasia from 4,000 to 5,000 B.C. In 1629, chokecherry was imported to England where it has been cultivated as an ornamental. It was first cultivated in North America as an orchard crop in 1724.
The seeds are toxic due to production of hydrocyanic acid in the leaves, stems and seeds. The almond nuts are treated to deactivate the poisonous glycosides before they are put on the market. Cases of illness and deaths have been traced back to eating the seeds of these trees.
Conservation: Chokecherry is used extensively in shelterbelts, windbreaks, wildlife habitat and mass plantings for erosion control. Chokecherry does well in riparian area planting. It provides thermal cover over the water and works well in stabilizing streambanks. It has been used on disturbed sites such as mined land reclamation, highway right-of-ways and construction sites. It is a good erosion control plant because it can form thickets and spread by rhizomes.
Wildlife: Chokecherry is important to many wildlife animals. Birds, rabbits, hares, rodents and bears all seek out and eat its fruit. It provides food, cover and nesting habitat for a variety of birds. Birds will also take advantage of its growth form for cover and nesting habitat. It is used extensively by deer as a browse source in the winter. The early spring flowers provide an important source of nectar for butterflies, honeybees and ants.
Food: The common name, chokecherry, came from the bitter and astringent taste of the fruit. The fruit was a staple for numerous Indian tribes across the North American continent, especially to tribes who lived on the plains and prairies. Chokecherries were routinely cooked before they were eaten or dried thoroughly. Both methods served to break down any formation of prussic acid contained in the stone pits. Drying chokecherries improves their taste by sweetening them, or at the very least, getting rid of the naturally occurring bitter taste. Chokecherries were consumed in three ways by Indians. The fruit and/or juice were eaten. Whole cherries, including pulp, skin and stone, were pulverized into a pulp, shaped into balls and dried in the sun. Fruit balls could be stored for future use. Either boiling or drying the fruit will neutralize the naturally occurring hydrocyanic acid. The most important use was as part of the recipe for pemmican, or mince-meat. Pemmican was made by getting a slice of dried meat (bison was preferred over elk, deer or antelope) and pounding it with a stone until it had a fine texture. Bone marrow and animal lard were then heated and mixed with the meat. Crushed chokecherries were then added. Pemmican would be cached as a winter food. Some form of pemmican was a mainstay for all plains tribes. Chokecherry butter was made by cooking the mature fruit, straining out the seed and skins, mixing this poultice with an equal quantity of wild plums or crabapples and adding sugar. The bark was brewed for a tea drink. Many tribes would add the fruits to soups and stews as flavoring and as a thickening agent. A green branch was speared through a meat slab while it was cooking to add spice to the taste.
Likewise, pioneers and settlers came to realize its food value. Mature fruits are still collected today and used to make jellies, jams, pie-fillings, syrups, sauces and wines.
Like many plants and animals which were vital to their survival some tribes used parts of the chokecherry plant in their rituals. A green dye was derived from the leaves, inner bark and immature fruit. A purplish-red dye was derived from the ripe fruit. The Cheyenne used the limbs to make arrow shafts and bows. The Crows used it for tipi stakes and pins. Mountain men washed their steel traps in water boiled with the bark to remove the scent. It is speculated many tribes planted seeds in places they frequented to ensure a supply of chokecherries was always available.
Chokecherry is being promoted for planting as a minor crop in the prairie provinces of Canada for juice production. Estimated fruit production potential is 15,000 pounds per acre from mature plants. There is a significant research effort in Canada for developing fruit producing cultivars.
Landscaping: In some parts of the U.S., chokecherry is a popular ornamental. Its quick growth, mature size, attractive white flowers in the spring and strong, sweet and almond-like aroma fragrance make it a good yard tree in urban neighborhoods. Cultivars are planted for ornamentals rather than the native species. All native chokecherry varieties have a great tendency to sucker, which can create problems in lawn care. Most cultivated varieties do not have this suckering trait while producing more attractive flowers and/or larger fruit. The fruit also attracts a diverse population of birds for a number of weeks. Chokecherries can be a component in a screen or noise barrier planting.
Ethnobotany: Chokecherry covered a large geographic range in North America, so a majority of tribes used it to treat a variety of health problems. It was valued especially for its astringent properties and beneficial effect upon the respiratory system.
The Arika women would drink the berry juice to stop post-partum hemorrhage.
The Blackfeet drank berry juice for diarrhea and sore throats. An infusion of the cambium layer mixed with Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier almifolia) was taken as a general purge treatment and to lactating mothers so they could pass on the medicinal qualities to the nursing baby. They also used it in an enema solution for their children. Willow (Salix spp.) tea was used to counteract the laxative effect of chokecherry.
The Cherokees used chokecherry in the following ways: mixed chokecherry with hazel alder (Alnus serrulata), downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens), Canadian wildginger (Asarum canadense) and yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima) to make a blood tonic. An infusion made from boiled bark was given for coughs, laryngitis, chills, ague, fevers and to loosen phlegm. Warm chokecherry tea was given to women when labor pains began. The root bark is a good astringent and was mixed with water and used as a rinse for open sores and old skin ulcers. The tree bark of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) was added to corn whiskey and used to treat for measles. The fruit was boiled and eaten to treat for bloody bowels. The branches and leaves were one of six ingredients burned in sweat lodges to treat for indigestion and jaundice.
The Cheyenne would gather the immature fruit, dry it in the sun, pulverize it and use it as a treatment for diarrhea.
The Paiutes made a medicinal tea from the leaves and twigs to treat colds and rheumatism.
The Sioux chewed the dried roots and then placed this poultice in open wounds to stop the bleeding. The Sioux, Crows, Gros Ventres and others made a bark tea to cure stomach aches, diarrhea and dysentery. The Crows also used the bark to cleanse sores and burns.
In the 19th century medical doctors used many concoctions of chokecherry leaves and bark to treat a number of ailments. Chokecherry bark was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1970. It is still listed as a pharmaceutical aid, a flavor agent for liquid medicines. Among the health complaints treated were debility, hectic fever, irritative dyspepsia, irritability of the nervous system, fever, pleurisy, whooping cough, tuberculosis, pneumonia, sore throats and gastrointestinal problems. It was recommended as a rinse on burns, open sores, cankers and skin ulcers. Pharmaceutical books at that time cautioned against boiling any mixture using chokecherry leaves or bark because it would drive off the medicinal properties. The bark was used as a flavoring agent in many cough syrups. In 1834, Dr. Proctor first identified the bark as containing prussic acid.
In their journals, Lewis and Clark recorded that while camped on the upper Missouri River Captain Lewis became will with abdominal cramps and fever. He made a tea from chokecherry twigs and was well the next day.
Modern medicinal research shows in small dosages hydrocyanic acid can stimulate respiration, improve digestion and gives a false sense of well-being. Some cancer research involving hydrocyanic acid is being conducted.
Prunus virginiana, commonly called bitter-berry, chokecherry, Virginia bird cherry and western chokecherry (also black chokecherry for P. virginiana var. demissa), is a species of bird cherry (Prunus subgenus Padus) native to North America; the natural historic range of P. virginiana includes most of the continent, except for the far north and far south.
Chokecherry is a suckering shrub or small tree growing to 16 feet (4.9 meters) tall. The leaves are oval, 1.25–4 in. (3.2 - 10.2 cm) long, with a coarsely serrated margin. The flowers are produced in racemes of 15-30 in (38.1 - 76.2 cm) late spring (well after leaf emergence). The fruit are about .4 inch (1 cm) diameter, range in color from bright red to black, with a very astringent taste, being both somewhat sour and somewhat bitter. The very ripe berries are dark in color and less astringent and more sweet than the red berries.
The chokeberries, genus Aronia, are sometimes confused with chokecherries due to their name, but chokecherries are in the Rosaceae family, Prunus genus while chokeberries are in the Rosaceae family, Photinia genus.
Chokecherries are very high in antioxidant pigment compounds, such as anthocyanins. They share this property with chokeberries, further contributing to confusion.
Prunus virginiana is sometimes divided into two varieties, P. virginiana var. virginiana (the eastern chokecherry), and P. virginiana var. demissa (the western chokecherry).
The wild chokecherry is often considered a pest, as it is a host for the tent caterpillar, a threat to other fruit plants. However, there are more appreciated cultivars of the chokecherry, such as 'Goertz', which has a nonastringent, and therefore palatable, fruit. Research at the University of Saskatchewan 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 100 feet 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 natives in their smoking mixtures, known as kinnikinnick, to improve the taste of the bearberry leaf. The chokecherry fruit can be used to make a 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 (rumens), especially after the leaves have wilted (such as after a frost or after branches have been broken) because wilting releases cyanide and makes the plant sweet. About 10–20 lbs 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 caterpillars of various Lepidoptera. See List of Lepidoptera which feed on Prunus.
In 2007, Governor John Hoeven 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.
- Rehder, A. 1940, reprinted 1977. Manual of cultivated trees and shrubs hardy in North America exclusive of the subtropical and warmer temperate regions. Macmillan publishing Co., Inc, New York.
- "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". Retrieved January 27, 2014.
- GRIN (May 17, 2012). "Prunus virginiana information from NPGS/GRIN". Taxonomy for Plants. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland: USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
- Farrar, J.L. 1995. Trees in Canada. Canadian Forest Service and Fitzhenry and Whiteside Limited, Markham.
- Edible Wild Plants A North American Field Guide, Thomas S. Elias, Peter A. Dykeman, Sterling Publishing Company Inc., New York, NY, 1990. isbn:0-8069-7488-5
- pg. 81, Trees of Michigan and the Upper Great Lakes 6th edition, Norman F. Smith, Thunder Bay Press, 2002
- Staff (2009) "Bearberry" Discovering Lewis and Clark The Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation
- Kindscher, K. 1987. Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide
Names and Taxonomy
L. (Rosaceae) [58,72,73,80]. Recognized varieties are:
Prunus virginiana var. demissa (Nutt.) Torr. - western chokecherry [73,80]
Prunus virginiana var. melanocarpa (A. Nels.) Sarg. - black chokecherry 
Prunus virginiana var. virginiana L. - common chokecherry [73,80]
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