Aronia melanocarpa Michx.
3-6' high, equal width
Zone 3a USDA
Nova Scotia . Florida . Indiana
Not too common in standard nursery stock, black
chokeberry is finally starting to get the recognition
that it deserves. Glossy, pendulous clusters of black
fruit suspended before lustrous green leaves are
pleasing when viewed up close in summer, but the
flower display and fall color are excellent even
Seemingly phased by nothing, this shrub will tolerate
anything thrown at it: swampy ground, dry sandy soil,
drought, salt, and pollution. It is probably pickiest
about its light, tolerating partial shade but becoming
more leggy and affected by mildew with in darker corners.
A great deal of controversy surrounds the nomenclature
of the chokeberries
some sources list various species under the genus
Pyrus, while still others claim that it is
a member of the genus Photinia. I have yet
to see a single source agree with another source other
than to comment on how difficult this genus is to
Bean, citing James W. Hardin's article "The Enigmatic
Chokeberries", Bull. Torr. Club 100 178-184, 1973,
claims that there is no way of distinguishing Aronia
prunifolia from Aronia melanocarpa. He
attributes this to shifting landmasses, forcing
Aronia arbutifolia and Aronia melanocarpa
together and allowing them to interbreed.
Because the seeds can be set without fertilization,
he says that "they can breed true, and thus simulate
Swink & Wilhelm have similar observations, generally
stating that anything with glabrous (smooth and without
any hair) leaves and flower parts should be considered
to be Aronia melanocarpa.
To complicate matters further, it seems that either
Aronia prunifolium or Aronia melanocarpa
does not have good fall coloration. Because of the
difficulty in discerning between species, plants may
be mislabelled as well. When picking plants for fall
color, they should be purchased in the fall so that
the best selection can be picked. They transplant
readily, and can even be planted before winter.
I highly recommend this plant to anyone interested
in trying something a little old-fashioned, but still
a little different.
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Appearing only on the top 2/3s of the plant, the
glossy bright green leaves are quite showy and
emerge in April. Only 1-3" long, they are often
clean from disease and pest problems, catching the
sunlight quite nicely. Unfortunately, they darken
as the season progresses, hiding the dark fruit.
For identification purposes, it is useful to note
that the chokeberries are the only shrubs with
small black glands along the upper surfaces of
the midribs of the leaves (with the exception of
a few Malus species).
Elliptic or obovate to oblong-oblanceolate, acuminate
or obtuse apex, 1-3" long, glabrous or nearly so.
Margins finely serrate, petiole 1/4" or less.
Set nicely against the lustrous foliage, the whitish-
pink flowers are borne in loose clusters of up to 8.
Opening in mid-May, these clusters can reach 2" in
Inflorescences glabrous, 1.5-2" wide, loose, containing
5-8 3/8" flowers, anthers reddish.
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1/4" in diameter, the bluish-black fruit hang down
in clusters of 10 or so from red pedicels. They
color in September, but aren't really noticed until
the leaves change color and drop in the fall. The
glossy fruit will persist through January, but will
begin to dry out at that point.
It derives the name 'chokeberry' from the extremely
astringent taste that birds supposedly won't tolerate,
but it can be quite a pleasant flavor with
sweeteners. In fact, some companies like Wildland
are now producing
berry juice for consumption.
Songbirds and upland gamebirds do
enjoy the bitter fruit in winter months, as do
many species of small mammals.
Pome, 1/4" wide, globose, purplish-black.
Ranging from crimson to wine-red to apricot, the
leaves are splendid in late October. They have
a nearly luminescent quality, brightening darker
corners on cloudy autumn days.
Not particularly noticeable, the reddish-brown
bark on chokeberries is smooth with conspicuous lenticels,
exfoliating into tight curls with a cross-check
Younger branches are slender and yellow-brown with
silvery exfoliating scales.
This is yet another nearly disease and pest-free species.
There are occasionally problems with twig and fruit
blight covering plant parts with powdery mold. Leaf
spots and rust have also been reported, but never with
Seeds should be stratified in moist peat for
3 months between 33 and 41&176;F.
Softwood cuttings taken in early summer root easily
have had 100% success with 1000ppm IBA quick dip.
Division has also proved to be highly successful.
Cutting suckers with a sharp spade and transplanting
them throughout the garden will almost always work.
Like all chokeberries, this extremely adaptable
shrub is a plant for almost all seasons. Its pollution,
drought, insect and disease tolerance are all reasons
why it is favored among nurserymen
listed in "The Top Ten-Plus-One Shrubs for Minnesota",
Minnesota Horticulturalist 106(6)152-154, June-July
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Most effective en masse, this low-growing shrub could
also be used in the border. Because of its legginess,
it should be used as a backdrop for low-growing
perennials or groundcovers in more formal, tight
Its high tolerance to drought, mine spoils, soil
compaction, and salt all make it an ideal plant
along roadsides, highways, and parking lots.
Taller and less suckering
Taller, with larger flowers and fruit.
Betula pumila, Calpogon tuberosus,
Chamaedaphne calyculata angustifolia,
Dryopteris thelypteris pubescens,
Hypericum virginicum, Larix laricina,
Osmunda regalis spectabilis, Rhus
vernix, Spiraea tomentosa rosea,
Vaccinium corymbosum, Vaccinium
Peaty excavated sites:
Aletris farinosa, Alnus rugosa,
Asclepias incarnata, Ludwigia alternifolia,
Populus tremuloides, Salix glaucophylloides,
Solidago patula, Xyris torta.
Bartonia virginica, Gaultheria procumbens,
Populus tremuloides, Quercus palustris,
Dry, sandy soils:
Hieracium canadense fasciculatum,
Lespedeza capitata, Potentilla simplex,
Vaccinium angustifolium, Viola fimbriatula.
Originally considered to be of little medicinal
value, new research shows that Aronia melanocarpa
has a high concentration of polyphenols and
anthocyanins, stimulating circulation, protecting
the urinary tract, and strengthening the heart.
Ongoing studies at the University of Illinois also
suggest that Aronia may include compounds that
fight cancer and cardiac disease.
- Bean, W. J. Trees & Shrubs Hardy in
the British Isles: Supplement.. London:
John Murray, 1997.
- Dirr, Michael. Manual of Woody Landscape
Plants. Champaign: Stipes Publishing, 1990.
- Griffiths, M. The Index of Garden
Plants. Portland: Timber Press, 1994.
- Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs,
and Vines for Urban and Rural America. New York:
Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.
- Johnson, Warren T. and Howard H. Lyon.
Insects That Feed on Trees and Shrubs.
Ithica: Cornell University, 1994.
- Krussmann, Gerd. Manual of Cultivated
Broad-Leaved Trees & Shrubs, vol. I. Beaverton:
Timber Press, 1976.
- Rehder, Alfred. Manual of Cultivated
Trees and Shrubs. New York: MacMillan
- Sinclair, Wayne A. et al. Diseases of
Trees and Shrubs. Ithica: Cornell University,
- Swink, Floyd and Gerould Wilhelm. Plants
of the Chicago Region. Lisle: Morton Arboretum,
- Wyman, Donald. Wyman's Gardening
Encyclopedia. New York: MacMillan, 1986.