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Black chokeberry is a versatile, underutilized shrub with great ornamental and wildlife value. It tolerates a wide variety of soils and produces prolific masses of white flowers and purplish-black fruits that attract birds in late winter. In the fall, the glossy green leaves change to vibrant red, copper, and burgundy colors. This low-maintenance shrub will grow in part shade and a wide variety of soil types, but fruit production and fall color are more intense with 5 to 6 hours in the sun and additional moisture during dry spells. While it prefers well-drained conditions, it’s tolerant of wet soils and salt, making it a good choice for boggy areas and roadsides. This attractive and useful shrub is highly adaptable and hardy. Once mature, it tolerates drought and has few pest or disease problems.

 

And what about those pomes? The dark-colored berries are currently being touted by many Americans as a superfood that's high in fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants. They have long been used in Russia and eastern Europe to make juices, wines, baked goods, jams, and health tonics, and Native Americans used them to make pemmican. The common name refers to the astringency of the raw berries, which may be tempered by freezing, adding a sweetener, or mixing with sweeter fruits. According to “Preserving Aronia Berries: A Personal Experience and Scientific Insight” on Hugelkulturworks.com, freezing the berries causes the cell walls to break down, thus reducing their astringency.

 

There are many creative ways to add this beautiful and productive plant to the landscape. Create an edible garden area along a slope with groundcover strawberries. Combine chokeberry with other multi-season shrubs for an ongoing display of color. Plant it as a focal point in an island bed. Use it anywhere as a substitute for burning bush, a non-native invasive. Keep in mind that chokeberries are self-fertile, but the size and amount of fruits are improved when several chokeberries are planted close together.

 

Minimal pruning is needed, especially if you want your shrub to spread. Because Aronia blooms on old wood, remove dead or diseased branches and lightly shape plants as needed in late winter or after flowering. To rejuvenate plants, thin out a third of older stems every few years. Older shrubs may benefit from a more severe pruning down to a few feet tall every few years. Remove suckers around the base of the plant as soon as they appear to prevent spreading.  (Cuttings can be rooted to grow a whole new shrub!)

 

Native habitats include bogs, wet thickets, woods, moist high-elevation forests, rocky outcrops, and along pond and lake margins. Chokeberry spreads by suckers to form colonies, making it ideal for mass plantings, wetland restorations, and erosion control. It’s also ideal for wildlife and mixed borders, naturalized areas, and rain gardens.

 

Plant Characteristics:

Grows 3-6’ tall and wide.

 

Prefers full sun but adapts to part shade; for maximum flowers and fruit, plant in full sun.

 

Prefers moist soil with good drainage but adapts to a wide range of soil types, including sandy or clay, wet or dry.

 

Flowers with 4-5 petals and pink-tipped stamens are less than half an inch wide and occur May-June in clusters of 5-6. Edible, 1/2" pomes follow August-September.

 

Alternate, simple, elliptic-obovate leaves are 1-3" long with finely serrated margins.

 

Multi-stemmed trunk is covered with brown, mostly smooth bark and conspicuous lenticels. Plants may be cut to the ground periodically to control and promote growth.

 

Wildlife Value:

Aronia is a host plant for up to 29 species of moths and butterflies, including the coral hairstreak butterfly (pictured here) and the Catocala praeclara moth. The flowers attract numerous pollinators. Many species of birds and mammals browse the astringent berries only when other food sources dwindle in late winter.

 

Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Aronia berries are one of the richest plant sources of anthocyanins. Extensive research has shown that the berries  have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that provide a wide array of health benefits, including glucose regulation, in-vitro cancer-cell suppression, hepatoprotection, and antimicrobial action.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17408071/

 

Potawatomi used the berries to make a tea for cold symptoms and to make pemmican (a mixture of meat, tallow, and dried berries). The bark and berries were used as an astringent.

 

Chokeberry, Black, Aronia melanocarpa

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