Prunus virginiana


Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium
and Elizabeth Parnis

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Prunus, from the Latin prunus, "plum tree".
  • virginiana, from the Latin, "of Virginia"
  • Chokecherry, from the astringent taste of the fruit
  • Other common names include Western Chokecherry, Common Chokecherry, Black Chokecherry


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Rosidae, the Roses
        • Order Rosales, the Roses
          • Family Rosaceae, the Roses; with Amelanchier (Juneberries), Aronia (Chokeberries), Crataegus (Hawthorns), Malus (Apples), Physocarpus (Ninebark), Potentilla (Cinquefoils), Rosa (Roses), Rubus (Blackberries, Dewberries, and Raspberries), Sorbus (Mountain Ash), and Spiraea (Spirea)
            • Genus Prunus, the Cherries & Plums
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 24806
  • Common Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana var. virginiana), the eastern variety; occurs from Saskatchewan to Newfoundland south to Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee and North Carolina.


  • A ¼, ½, ¾, º, é
  • Leaves
  • Stem
  • Roots
  • Flowers
    • Sepals
    • Petals
    • Stamens
    • Pistils
    • Ovary superior (within blossom) inferior (below flower)
  • Fruit
  • Seed
  • A native, deciduous, thicket-forming erect shrub or small tree.
  • Leaves alternate with glands along the margins of the leaf base or at the petiole apex.
  • Stems numerous and slender, either branching from the base or with main branches upright and spreading.
  • Height varies considerably, ranging from 3'-20'.
  • Roots a shallow network of rhizomes and a deep-feeding, verticle network. Roots at intervals along the rhizomes.
  • Flowers perfect, borne on leafy twigs of the season.
  • Fruit a drupe, each containing a small stone.
  • Leaf: Alternate, simple, oblong to nearly oval, finely serrated margin, 2 to 4 inches long, dark green above and paler below, minute glands on petiole.

    Flower: White, in a loose terminal raceme (3 to 6 inches long), appearing after leaves from May to June.

    Fruit: Dark red to purple drupe, 1/3 inch in diameter, maturing in July to October.

    Twig: Twigs slender, but stouter than black cherry, light brown to gray, strong unpleasant odor when broken, buds are 1/3 inch long covered with brownish scales.

    Bark: Smooth, gray brown, conspicuous lenticels that develop into shallow fissures, young stems have shallowly peeling, curling layers.

    Form: Small, upright tree to 25 feet and 6 inches in diameter. It often forms shrubby thickets.

  • General - shrub or small tree, 1-6 m tall; bark smooth, reddish brown to grey-brown, becomes dark with age, does not peel readily, with inconspicuous, raised pores.

    Choke Cherry Leaves - alternate; thin, elliptic to obovate, 2-10 cm long, sharp-pointed to rounded at tip, blunt at base; bright green and hairless above, paler below; edges have fine, sharp teeth; stalks have 2 or 3 prominent glands.

    Flowers - in many-flowered, bottlebrush-like clusters 5-15 cm long at ends of branches; flowers are white, 10-12 mm across; appearing May to June.

    Fruit - shiny, red, purple or black cherries, about 8 mm across, edible but astringent; ripening in August and September.


    Woods, clearings, hillsides and river terraces; often on dry and exposed sites; widespread across NW Ontario's boreal region, north and west to southern N.W.T. and northern B.C.


    Distinguished from the Pin Cherry by the leaves. The Choke Cherry has broader, egg-shaped leaves and dense, elongated, terminal flower clusters. May also be mistaken for the Mountain Juneberry. Identification can be made by observing the leafstalks; the Choke Cherry leaves have glandular leafstalks while Mountain Juneberry leaves do not.


  • Identifiable as
  • Distinguished from
  • Field Marks


  • Alaska to Newfoundland,
  • Throughout southern Canada and much of the US, from Newfoundland to British Columbia and south to North Carolina, Missouri, Texas, and California.


  • Although growing preferentially along streams, springs, and seeps, where plants typically form dense thickets, chokecherry is generally intolerant of poor drainage, prolonged spring flooding, or high water tables.
  • Except for heavy clay, is adapted to a wide range of soil textures, but most sites are characterized by silty or sandy soils with good depth, fertility, and drainage.
  • Tolerant of moderately acidic (pH of 5.0), moderately basic, and weakly saline soils.
  • Successional on forested sites; plants are relatively short lived and decline in vigor and numbers as the forest canopy closes. A dominant understory component in Aspen (Populus tremuloides) communities.
  • Provides forage, wildlife habitat, watershed protection, and species diversity. Forms open thickets that allow big game access to abundant amounts of nutritious and relatively palatable browse.


  • Well-adapted to disturbance by fire. Moderately resistant to fire mortality, and, although easily top-killed, sprouts vigorously from surviving root crowns and rhizomes following most fires.
  • Vegetative reproduction represents the primary mode of postfire regeneration in chokecherry. To a lesser degree, it also involves germination of off-site seed dispersed by mammals and birds.
  • Plant frequencies increase on most sites in response to fire.


  • Trees: Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
  • Shrubs:
  • Herbs:
  • Ground Covers:
  • Mammals: Although browsed year-round by deer, it is used more intensely in spring and fall. Despite its deciduous nature, it maintains relatively high nutrient levels throughout late fall and winter. Fruits eaten by cottontail rabbit, least chipmunk, and black bear.
  • Birds:


  • Gathered by indigenous peoples and used them to make pemican and treat cold sores.


  • Edible and, although somewhat astringent, relatively sweet when fully ripe. Used to make wines, syrups, jellies, and jams.


  • Sexually by seed
  • Flowers
  • Assexually by
  • Reproduces by seed and vegetatively by rhizomes; vegetative expansion via rhizomes is its primary method of regeneration.
  • Seed crops typically regular and viable, with seed-producing capacity higher in plants on open sites. Seeds are surrounded by a stoney endocarp which may offer some resistance to germination but is permeable to moisture.
  • An afterripening period in the presence of oxygen and moisture is necessary for adequate germination. About half of unstratified seed germinates within 60 days; delayed germination can occur up to 120 days of sowing. Overall seed quality and germination are improved in seed produced under optimal moisture conditions. Significantly enhanced germination in seed ingested by black bears in Minnesota is attributed to acid and mechanical scarification of seeds in the digestive tract.
  • Although the majority seeds are deposited beneath parent plants, long-distance dispersal undoubtedly occurs via birds and mammals.


  • By seed, following cool, moist stratification of 120-160 days at 36º-41º F.


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Sun
    • Soil
    • Water
    • Spacing
    • Fertilization
  • Size 12"-18"W x 12"-18"H
  • Growth rate
  • Good for
  • Cultivars include
    • variety 'Alba', with
  • Cultivars and species available by mail order from specialty suppliers or at local nurseries
  • Widely used as ornamentals. Although producing an abundance of attractive white flowers characterized by a strong, sweet, almondlike fragrance, valued primarily for its fruit. Varieties producing bright red berries are most preferred. Plantings are also useful in increasing habitat and natural food supplies for birds frequenting residential areas.
  • Susceptible to attack by the fungus Plowrightia stansburiana, which causes knotlike cankers to develop on stems. This condition eventually kills infected stems. Afflicted plants usually have a shortened life span.
  • In the NE United States is a primary host of the eastern tent caterpillar.



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Last updated on 31 August, 2004