Friday, November 11, 2011

Chokeberries, they gotta find a new name

NOT Burning Bush!  This a Red Chokeberry,
 Aronia arbutifolia 'Brilliantissima' growing at the edge of a parking lot.

Flowers of Red Chokeberry in late May-early June
The Chokeberries are medium-sized shrubs native to eastern North America and have landscape attributes that make them good replacements for the invasive ‘Burning Bush’, Euonymus alatus. Like the Euonymus, these shrubs will grow under a wide variety of conditions and they have good fall color. In fact, this year seems to be an exceptional year for chokeberry foliage! In general, Red Chokeberry has more intense orange to red fall foliage, while Black Chokeberry is more a crimson red. Unlike the Euonymus, the Chokeberries do have showy pinkish-to-white 5-petaled flowers, they have edible berries in the fall and, as natives, they are not invasive.

The two most commonly available species of Chokeberry are: the Red, Aronia arbutifolia, and the Black, Aronia melanocarpa. There is a third species, Aronia prunifolia, the Purplefruit Chokeberry, which may be a natural hybrid of the red and black chokeberries.

Pair of Red Chokeberries in a mixed native planting,
early June.
Red Chokeberry is an upright suckering shrub that will grow 6-12’ tall. Besides the bright red-orange fall foliage, it produces bright red berries that will persist into December. These fruits are edible, but bitter, which is probably why they do not get eaten right away by birds. While it will grow under a wide range of soil conditions from boggy conditions to dry soils, it prefers the moister conditions. Its native range is from the southeastern US to southern New England. The most commonly available form of Red Chokeberry is the cultivar ‘Brilliantissima’, noted for profuse quantities of glossy, red berries.

The Black Chokeberry is a smaller suckering shrub, growing to 3-6’ tall and wide. In addition to its crimson fall foliage it produces quantities of black berries that are eaten up by wildlife by November. Unlike the Red Chokeberry, the black berries, while tart, are more palatable and are used to make jellies and pemmican. These berries are notable for containing high levels of antioxidants and minerals. I went out to sample a berry, but they were already dried up; the taste was reminiscent of a dried fig. Next season I will take a taste while they still have some juice in them. The native range for Black Chokeberry is in the cooler climates of North America, mainly in the Northeast, from Michigan to Maine. There are several cultivars of Black Chokeberry available. The one I have is called Iroquois Beauty™ (‘Morton’). It is listed as a dwarf, growing to about 4’ tall and wide. I have not done any significant pruning in the 5 years I've had this plant.

Black Chokeberry, mid-Fall color.

Same plant at peak color in early November

These shrubs are tolerant of salt, drought, flooding and compacted soils. Other than in full shade, one of these Aronia species will grow nearly anywhere. In my work I look to use them in borders, mixed hedgerows and along woodland edges. Their foliage is less dense than that of the invasive Euonymus, so are better players in a mixed composition.  Now if they could just find a better name...


Curbstone Valley Farm said...

I'm impressed at how much fall color the chokeberries have. I did plant a burning bush Euonymus at our last house, and it was honestly no more colorful (at least in our mild climate) than these beautiful shrubs. A lovely alternative.

Laurrie said...

A nice profile of this plant. My aronia 'Brilliantissima' is very leggy and tall, with kind of sparse foliage only at the tops of the arching, mostly bare branches. It does get nice red fall color and berries (and pretty spring flowers) but there is so little of it to see, just what is at the tops of the branches.

Your photos show such full, gorgeous shrubs. Should I prune way back? I'd hate to lose the little bit that is at the top.

Curtis said...

As a suckering plant, you should be able to cut back some of the older, leggy growth and let new growth fill in from below. I saw some at Elm Bank (MassHort) that look like yours.

Curtis said...

I sampled some berries from the Red Chokeberry the other day. They were full and juicy with relatively large seeds. While the initial taste was slightly sweet and refreshing, after a few seconds the astrigency set in. I wouldn't say I choked on them, but I would noteat a handful right off the bush, either. The black chokeberry is supposed to be more palatable, so I'll have to taste those next year.

Laurrie said...

Curtis - a heads up: I linked to you today on a post I did about the aronias in my garden. Thanks for getting me to take a look at how mine were growing compared to the info here!

THB Farm (Ellen S) said...

Followed the link from Laurrie's blog to here - great article and pics Curtis! I have finally decided that my alleged "Red Chokeberry" that I bought from NEWFS many years ago must be have been mislabelled. It has black berries but otherwise looks just like the Red. I'm thinking it's one of the hybrids you mention. Thanks!

Tony Wilson said...

That is a big bush to move. You must do a super good job digging enough roots for it to survive. I'd hate to even attempt it. They do look nice there with all that other color around them.

Burning Bush Shrubs

ChrisPert said...

Adam, I'm a newcomer but loved this older article about Aronia as a native alternative to Burning Bush. I'm a Master Gardener Volunteer with Cornell Cooperative Extension in NY who does a lot of articles and presentations to library groups and garden clubs, and I wonder if I could use one of your terrific photos of Aronia in my presentation on native alternatives to invasives... if I use a credit line? Thanks so much!

Curtis said...

Chris, You may use one of these images with my permission (and a photo credit). If you would like a higher resolution version send me your contact info by a Facebook message and let me know which one you would like.