PlantFiles: Choke Cherry, Chokecherry, Virginia Bird Cherry Prunus virginiana
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Hardiness: USDA Zone 3a: to -39.9 °C (-40 °F) USDA Zone 3b: to -37.2 °C (-35 °F) USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 °C (-30 °F) USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 °C (-25 °F) USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F) USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F) USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F) USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F) USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F) USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F) USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F) USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
Sun Exposure: Full Sun Sun to Partial Shade Light Shade
Danger: Seed is poisonous if ingested Parts of plant are poisonous if ingested
Bloom Color: White/Near White
Bloom Time: Late Spring/Early Summer
Other details: Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
Soil pH requirements: 4.6 to 5.0 (highly acidic) 5.1 to 5.5 (strongly acidic) 5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)
On May 4, 2012, plant_it from Valparaiso, IN wrote:
Great for wildlife garden. Chokecherry is widely regarded as an important wildlife food plant and provides habitat, watershed protection, and species diversity. Fruits, leaves, and twigs are utilized. The fruits are important food for many birds. Large mammals including bears, moose, coyotes, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, elk and deer use chokecherry as food. Chokecherry is also a food source for small mammals and is recognized as "special value" to native bees. To top it off, it's a larval host/nectar source for some cool looking butterflies and moths: http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=PRVI
Native to southern Canada and North America, where it is found almost throughout the continent except for the deep South and the far North. 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).
Has impressive resilience under variable growing conditions.
There's a comment that the seeds of the chokecherry are poisonous. Having eaten them all my life, I'd challenge that comment.
When crushed, the seeds have a slight almond flavor, which would suggest that they--like the almond--do contain amygdalin, which breaks down into a form of cyanide. While this chemical is extremely poisonous in concentrated form, young children regularly eat large quantities of the cherry pits without any consequences.
First Nations ("native") people typically eat the berries seed and all, by crushing it in their teeth, or by crushing and frying with bacon. The berries stain teeth brown, but simply brushing your teeth will eliminate the stain.
Someone said the species are shade intolerant. I have to challenge this statement. I have a little grove of these on the north facing slope of a ravine growing under very tall oaks. Once the oak leaf out, the sun does not touch the ground there. Each spring I see lots of flowers.
On Nov 15, 2005, darylmitchell from Saskatoon, SK (Zone 3a) wrote:
Chokecherry is a native species on the Canadian prairies, found by lakes, rivers and sloughs. They are fast-growing, prefer moist soil and are shade intolerant. Birds and deer use them as a source of food. White flowers form dense cluster, maturing into black berry fruit in late summer. The berries by themselves have an astringent taste, so they are often made into sweetened jams and baked goods.
On Jun 6, 2003, MartyJo from Fayette, IA (Zone 4b) wrote:
A very attractive small native tree, but I would recommend that you grow this only if you can deal with its suckering habit. We have (had) two in beds with perennials and the suckers come up everywhere, particularly in the crowns of other plants. If you can mow all around the tree this may not be a problem. We are in the process of replacing ours with something less invasive, and will not grow it again. The many, may seedlings are less of a problem, but require vigilance as well.
Collect the seeds by hand stripping the berries from the clusters on the branches. I use a plastic storage box, 12" long, 8" wide & 8" deep. I have attached an adjustable strap to the handles on the ends of the box that goes around my neck. I attach another adjustable strap that goes around my waist. These straps allow the box to hang to my waist and it is stable so that my 2 hands are free to strip the berries. Once I have filled the box to a level that the berries are at the maximum depth,low enough that they aren't spilling out, I transfer them to a plastic pail or some other container that I use to transport home.
To extract the seed form the berry, I use a food processor, (not a blender) to process. I put 1 or 2 cups of berries into the processor then fill the bowl up to a level that wont spill over when the machine is turned on. Run the machine for a little while, 15 to 30 seconds, enough to remove the skin & pulp off the seed. Don't run too long or the seeds will shatter. Experiment to see how much time is required.
The good seed should settle to the bottom when the processor is turned off. If the mixture is thick, dilute with more water untill the seed settles. Drain off the mixture of skin & pulp, wash the good seed, lay out on a screen to dry. Store in paper bag in a cool dark place.
Plant in the fall, germination will occure in the spring after the seed has been stratified from laying in the ground over winter.
On Sep 2, 2001, mystic from Ewing, KY (Zone 6a) wrote:
This is a shrub or small tree that grows from 20 to 30 feet. The bark is reddish-brown or gray. The alternate leaves are deciduous,oblong to oval to 3" long, finely toothed, acute at the tip and downy beneath; there are generally 1-2 small glands at the base of the leaf blade. The flowers are fragrant,small white blooming in May, in clusters near the ends of limbs, much like the blooms on most fruit trees.
Pea-sized fruit is a dark red turning nearly black when ripe and containing usually only 1-seed. The fruit is edible but bitter-tasting and the pits are poisonous. The fruit is used to make jellies and jams.
I enjoy learning the use of plants by the Native Americans, and I hope you find this as interesting as I did. Chokecherry was very popular with the Native American tribes. The pulp and kernels of the fruit were ground together and made into patties or balls. This ground product could also be combined with buffalo meat and fat to make pemmican. The fruits were also dried. The Prussic acid in chokecherry pits is neutralized by boiling or drying. The bark can be used as a tea. Native American tribes made use of both the bark and fruits. Chokecherry juice was used to treat sore throat and diarrhea. Tea made from the bark was used as a cold remedy. Tea made from chokecherry roots was used as a sedative and stomach remedy. The bark has been used as a flavoring for cough syrups.
This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:
Payette, Idaho Divernon, Illinois Sandwich, Illinois Tipton, Indiana Valparaiso, Indiana Westbrook, Maine Arnold, Maryland Baltimore, Maryland Brookeville, Maryland Valley Lee, Maryland Atlantic Mine, Michigan Millersburg, Michigan Minneapolis, Minnesota (2 reports) Lincoln, Nebraska Berlin, New Hampshire Belfield, North Dakota Medora, North Dakota Hulbert, Oklahoma Mill City, Oregon Portland, Oregon Downingtown, Pennsylvania Grand Mound, Washington Millwood, Washington Porterfield, Wisconsin Shorewood Hills, Wisconsin Johnstown, Wyoming Riverton, Wyoming Sheridan, Wyoming