Choke Cherry, Chokecherry, Virginia Bird Cherry
Prunus virginiana

Family: Rosaceae (ro-ZAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Prunus (PROO-nus) (Info)
Species: virginiana (vir-jin-ee-AN-uh) (Info)

Category:

Shrubs

Height:

20-30 ft. (6-9 m)

Spacing:

20-30 ft. (6-9 m)

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

Foliage:

Deciduous

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)

Patent Information:

Unknown - Tell us

Propagation Methods:

From seed; direct sow outdoors in fall

Seed Collecting:

Remove fleshy coating on seeds before storing

Regional

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

Danvers, Massachusetts

Atlantic Mine, Michigan

Millersburg, Michigan

Minneapolis, Minnesota (2 reports)

Bennington, Nebraska

Lincoln, Nebraska

Berlin, New Hampshire

Richlands, North Carolina

Belfield, North Dakota

Medora, North Dakota

Hulbert, Oklahoma

Jay, Oklahoma

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Mill City, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

Downingtown, Pennsylvania

Grand Mound, Washington

Spokane, Washington

Madison, Wisconsin

Porterfield, Wisconsin

Kinnear, Wyoming

Riverton, Wyoming

Sheridan, Wyoming

show all

Gardeners' Notes:

5
positives
4
neutrals
2
negatives
RatingContent
Negative

On Apr 13, 2015, vpandora from Bennington, NE wrote:

I really wanted to love this shrub, it was highly recommended by a local nursery and it is a native to Nebraska. However, after three years my choke cherries are smaller than when I first planted them. In the summer they attract Japanese beetles like crazy. The only way I've been able to keep the beetles from eating them to death is by keeping a bucket of soapy water handy to knock the bugs off the branches and drown them. Then in the winter, any growth I thought I had saved from the nasty bugs seems to break off during the winter's more severe winds. I'll probably put my choke cherries out of their misery this year if I can find a suitable replacement.

Positive

On Sep 1, 2014, rosepetal2 from Danvers, MA wrote:

Growing up in Minnesota, wild berries were a frequent treat! I have fond memories of stained finger picking buckets of chokecherries so that we could have chokecherry jelly a crystal clear tart jelly that's almost as good as red currant jelly. Like most wild plants, the leaves, bark and blossoms are toxic...you or your pets (dogs, cats, horses) may not die but will get pretty sick if they eat them. The seeds also are toxic, but it takes a lot to make you sick. You'd have to eat the raw berries which is nearly impossible due to their tart bitter taste. I think boiling the berries when making jelly removes the toxicity. We always used a jelly strainer to remove them to keep the jelly crystal clear, shimmering purple in color. Suckering habit? Yes, but a lot of small berries sucker - e... read more

Positive

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 fou... read more

Positive

On Jun 22, 2009, Philcott from Memphis, TN wrote:

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.

Neutral

On May 22, 2009, enya_34 from Madison, WI wrote:

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.

Neutral

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.

Neutral

On Nov 11, 2004, CaptMicha from Brookeville, MD (Zone 7a) wrote:

Not a highly attractive tree and blooms have a unpleasant odor.

But if you're planting for wildlife the cherries are excellent for attracting and feeding birds and small mammals.

Positive

On Aug 3, 2003, Shelly221 from Denver, CO (Zone 5b) wrote:

The birds absolutely LOVE this tree! If you can get to the cherries before the birds do, they make great jam, and pie. This is a very hardy tree.

Negative

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.

Positive

On Apr 6, 2003, haniford wrote:

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 t... read more

Neutral

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 th... read more