Chokeberry – Aronia
One of those plants that really should have a better name, this native flowering shrub gives you great multi-season interest.
In spring, clusters of white flowers attract all sorts of pollinators. The flowers develop into berries later in the season. As you might expect, Red Chokeberry has red berries; Black Chokeberry has purple-black berries.
Leaves are glossy green in the summer and become glowing shades of red, scarlet, orange and rich burgundy in fall. The bark is a nice smooth gray and not unattractive in winter.
Aronia melanocarpa is known as Black Chokeberry, and is the earlier of the two to ripen fruit, usually as early as mid-July. Birds also seem to favor this species, as the berries are typically gone within several weeks of ripening. Fall foliage tends to be on the burgundy to red scale, and the plant doesn’t spread as vigorously. The variety in stock now is ‘Viking,’ which is typical of the species at about 3-6’ tall and potentially twice as wide. Fruits are edible and supposedly a good source of Vitamin C, but they are bitter and astringent when raw. Try sweetening with sugar and use as a jelly or jam for they are rich in pectin; you can also mix them in with sweeter fruit juices or syrups.
Aronia arbutifolia, Red Chokeberry, ripens fruit later – usually early fall. The berries must not be as attractive to birds since they last well into winter. This species also tends to sucker more– creeping roots sprout stems and create a good-sized colony. This trait is an excellent way to control erosion or fill in an area with fewer plants. Fall color on Red Chokeberries tends to be bright red, scarlet and orange, and the plants typically grow 6-8’ tall and 3-5’ wide or more.
Both Chokeberries grow best in full sun, but are adaptable to a range of soils, from swampy to sandy. Growth will be faster in moist soils, and plants will tolerate growing in spots of light under shade trees, but may be leggy at the base (that’s okay, put some ferns down there!)
By Miri Talabac, Woody Plant Buyer/Manager