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Flaigg, Norman G.
Prunus virginiana L.
Chokecherry, Common chokecherry, Choke cherry
USDA Symbol: prvi
USDA Native Status: Native to U.S.
A large, deciduous shrub or small understory tree, choke cherry grows 20-30 ft. tall and often forms thickets. Dense clusters of white flowers are followed by red fruit ripening to dark purple from August to September (north) or June to August (south). Shrub or small tree, often forming dense thickets, with dark red or blackish chokecherries.
As the common name suggests, chokecherries are astringent or puckery, especially when immature or raw; but they can be made into preserves and jelly. Sometimes divided into three geographic varieties based on minor differences of leaves and fruits. Tent caterpillars (Malacosoma) often construct their silvery webs on the branches of this species.
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial Habit: Tree Leaf:
Green Autumn Foliage:
Black, Purple, Red Size Class:
Bloom InformationBloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun , Jul
AK , AR , AZ , CA , CO , CT , DC , DE , GA , IA , ID , IL , IN , KS , KY , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MT , NC , ND , NE , NH , NJ , NM , NV , NY , OH , OK , OR , PA , RI , SD , TN , TX , UT , VA , VT , WA , WI , WV , WY Canada: AB
, SK Native Distribution:
Nf. to B.C., s. to NC, TN, n. AR, TX & s. CA Native Habitat:
Moist woods; stream banks; prairie hillsides; fence rows; rocky bluffs; roadsides USDA Native Status: L48(N), AK(N), CAN(N),
Growing ConditionsWater Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
Soil pH: Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Cold Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Rich, moist soils. Limestone-based, Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay
Conditions Comments: Chokecherry is remarkably shade tolerant and has impressive resilience under variable growing conditions. Branches break off easily in ice storms. Western material is var. demissa and var. melanocarpa.
Blooms ornamental, Showy, Fruits ornamental, Erosion control, Understory tree Use Wildlife:
Blue-black edible cherries, makes good jelly. Important food for wildlife in July and August.
Chokecherry is moderately palatable to all classes of livestock, although it is more heavily browsed by domestic sheep than by cattle. It is a preferred mule deer browse on many winter ranges throughout the Intermountain West and Northern Great Plains.
Chokecherry is widely regarded as an important wildlife food plant and provides habitat, watershed protection, and species diversity. Fruits, leaves, and twigs are utilized. Large mammals including bears, moose, coyotes, bighorn sheep, pronghorn , elk , and deer use chokecherry as browse. Chokecherry is also a food source for small mammals. The fruits are important food for many birds. Cattle and domestic sheep also eat chokecherry, and because of its toxicity, poisoning sometimes occurs. Livestock normally do not eat fatal quantities except when other forage is scarce. (USDA Forest Service) Use Medicinal: Native
peoples and settlers used chokecherry bark
and roots to make sedatives, blood-fortifying tonics, appetite stimulants and medicinal teas for treating coughs, tuberculosis, malaria, stomachaches and intestinal worms. (Kershaw) Warning:
New growth, wilted leaves, or plant parts that are injured by frost or drought are poisonous to cattle and humans. The toxin, hydrocyanic acid, is formed in the animals stomach. Hydrocyanic acid quickly affects animals and causes difficulty in breathing, slow pulse, dilated pupils, staggering and loss of consciousness before death. Chokecherry toxicity is highest during the spring and summer; however, leaves are non-toxic by the time fruits mature. (Rangeland Ecosystems)
Children have been poisoned and have died after ingesting large quantities of berries, which contain the seeds. (Canadian Biodiversity Poisonous Plants) Conspicuous Flowers:
Butterflies Larval Host:
Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)
is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
In addition to seed, Prunus species may be rooted from dormant hardwood, softwood, semi-hardwood, or root cuttings. Semi-hardwood and softwood cuttings taken in summer root easiest. Separate suckers from parent plant in spring. Seed Collection:
when it is filled out, firm, and its ripe color. Clean seeds from pulp and briefly air dry. (Seeds to be sown immediately in fall do not need drying.) Storage viability is maintained at 31-41 degrees. Seed Treatment:
Stratify seeds in moist sand for 2 weeks in a greenhouse, then cold stratify (36-41 degrees) for 60-90 days. Plant well before high temperatures. Commercially Avail:
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Record Modified: 2009-02-18
Research By: TWC Staff