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Black Chokeberry: Showy but Well-Behaved

Jim Lakin MD, Master Gardener

Black Chokeberry: Showy but Well-Behaved

As the snow starts to melt and a few green tufts of grass peak out, it’s a great time to start thinking about planting native shrubs.  If you have an area that needs screening for privacy, a walkway or border to delineate, a property line that needs a hedge, you would do well to think about a native shrub.  Over the next three months we’ll talk about some great options.

One very attractive choice is black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa).  A. melanocarpa has been quite popular with the dietetically conscious in that it is rich in antioxidants and, even better, will not make you choke.  Although it does have a distinct aftertaste which some find bracing and others, not so much.  With the right recipe, the berries can make a tasty jam or jelly.  In any event, you don’t need to eat the plant to enjoy it.  It is an attractive woody perennial which is well behaved. It makes a great ornamental shrub, especially for a traditional garden. 

May flowers

Black chokeberry grows in the wild from eastern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa eastwards across the Midwest.  It is cold tolerant from Zone 3 to 8.  Although it grows naturally on sandy soils it can easily be transplanted to a variety of environments ranging from sand to clay.  It does well in full sun to light shade.  Once established, black chokeberry produces, in May, clusters of attractive, showy white flowers with pink stamens that rise above the petals.  They go on to form inky, glossy black fruit in late summer.  The berries remain on the shrub through the winter providing interest against the snow.  The leaves are usually a deep shimmering green which transforms into bright red in fall, setting off the glossy black fruit.  Black chokeberry usually grows 3 to 6 feet tall.  Although it is a well-behaved shrub, it will send off root suckers to form colonies.  If you are going for a more formal look they can be easily removed.

Ripe Fruit

Black chokeberry is usually a very low maintenance plant once established.  It is disease resistant to most blights although occasional leaf spot is sometimes seen.  It is a versatile landscape plant which can be used in formal gardens although it also does well for naturalizing where suckering is not an issue.  Its tolerance of boggy soils makes it a great addition to pond or stream margins.    There are several cultivars available in nurseries.  “Professor Ed” is one notable.  Often, on-line sites specializing in native perennials of the Midwest can provide hearty specimens.  

black chokeberry in a naturalized setting

Photo Credit: Missouri Botanical Garden (1,2,3)

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