Nicole Stoner, Nebraska Extension Educator, provides a monthly feature on plants to consider for your acreage. This month Nicole will feature a great selection for festive color in the fall and winter, Chokeberry.
November is a great month. However, it often begins the dreary environment that comes with winter where we lack color from all of our wonderful plants. Thankfully, there are many plants that give us an interesting landscape in the late fall and into the winter months. Red Chokeberry is one of those plants. Photo of red chokeberry fruits below is courtesy creative commons license from John Ruter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org
Red Chokeberry, Aronia arbutifolia, is a small tree or large shrub that is a great choice for fall color. It can grow up to 8-10 feet tall and wide. The foliage is 3.5 inches long, with teeth on the margins, or edge of leaf, and it has a point on the tip of the leaf. The foliage turns salmon to brilliant scarlet in the fall for added interest. The flowers are white to pinkish and small and appear in April in a cluster. The fruits are one of the most interesting parts of chokeberry. They are small, glossy red, round berries that persist into the winter months.
There is a red chokeberry and a black chokeberry. Either are good choices for the landscape. There are many other varieties that can be used to suit your liking as well. For red chokeberry, good selections include ‘Brilliantissima’ which has larger, more abundant flowers and is a superior plant. ‘Erecta’ is a good choice for narrow locations because it has an upright habit. For black chokeberry, the most common choices include ‘Viking’ which is denser and has more consistent fall color than the species and ‘Iroquois Beauty’ which is a dwarf selection that only grows up to 3-4 feet tall.
There is another plant that is commonly confused with Chokeberry, due to its name and close appearance. Chokecherry is actually a different plant within the same plant family, Rosaceae. Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, is a native plant that suckers and grows rapidly. One way that chokecherry is different from chokeberry is that the fruit of chokecherry turns black as they mature, whereas red chokeberry fruits stay red through development. Chokeberries are also much more tart than chokecherries are. Chokecherry grows taller, up to 20 feet tall and is denser than chokecherry. The Photo of red chokeberry flowers below is courtesy creative commons license from John Ruter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org
Red Chokeberry should be planted in full sun to part shade. It will tolerate many types of soil conditions but it prefers to be planted in well-drained soils. It can be used as a specimen plant in your landscape or it can be planted as a mass of many plants to give you a very interesting fall effect with the nice color change. One of the biggest problems with this plant would be rabbit damage.
Red Chokeberry is a food for birds, however it isn’t their first choice due to a lower protein content than other fruits, according to Harvard University. Aronia berries are often used in juices due to the high amounts of antioxidants, however black chokeberries are used more often for this due to the larger fruit size. According to Clemson Extension, antioxidants can slow, prevent or repair damage to your cells and they may lower your risk for infection and cancer. Red chokeberry fruits are better for winter interest because they stay on the plant longer in the winter than black chokeberry fruits which shrivel and drop off the plant in the early fall. Due to the tart flavoring of the fruits, chokeberry fruits are best used in jams and jellies.
Red chokeberry plants are a great addition to any landscape for fall color and lasting winter interest with the fruits. These plants can even give you fruit for producing jams, jellies, and juices that are high in antioxidants to help with your health. They are a beneficial plant to birds late in the season when other plants have no fruits left. Don’t confuse this plant with Chokecherry which can sucker and become invasive. There are many good choices for chokeberry, red or black and many varieties, so pick the one that suits your landscape and your needs. So, the next time you are choosing a new plant for your landscape for good winter interest, consider red chokeberry.