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Prunus virginiana

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Title: Prunus virginiana  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Plants used in Native American cuisine, World cuisine, Cherryville, British Columbia, Khichuqaqa, Virginiana
Collection: Bird Cherry, Cherries, Edible Nuts and Seeds, Flora of California, Flora of Eastern Canada, Flora of North America, Flora of Rhode Island, Flora of the Eastern United States, Flora of the Rocky Mountains, Flora of the Sierra Nevada (U.S.), Flora of the Western United States, Flora of Western Canada, Garden Plants of North America, Plants Described in 1753, Plants Used in Native American Cuisine, Plants Used in Traditional Native American Medicine, Prunus, Trees of Alaska, Trees of Idaho, Trees of Maryland, Trees of Michigan, Trees of Montana, Trees of North Carolina, Trees of Ontario, Trees of West Virginia
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Prunus virginiana

Prunus virginiana
Prunus virginiana var. virginiana (eastern chokecherry) in bloom
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Rosaceae
Genus: Prunus
Subgenus: Padus[1]
Species: P. virginiana
Binomial name
Prunus virginiana
L. 1753 not DuRoi 1771
Natural range of Prunus virginiana

Prunus virginiana, commonly called bitter-berry,[3] chokecherry,[3] Virginia bird cherry[3] and western chokecherry[3] (also black chokecherry for P. virginiana var. demissa[3]), is a species of bird cherry (Prunus subgenus Padus) native to North America; the natural historic range of P. virginiana includes most of Canada (including Northwest Territory but excluding Yukon, Nunavut, and Labrador), most of the United States (including Alaska but excluding some states in the Southeast) and northern Mexico (Sonora, Chihuahua, Baja California).[4][5][6]


  • Growth 1
  • Etymology 2
  • Characteristics 3
  • Food use 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Chokecherry is a suckering shrub or small tree growing to 4.9 m (16 ft) tall. The leaves are oval, 3.2–10.2 cm (1.3–4.0 in) long, with a coarsely serrated margin. The flowers are produced in racemes of 38.1–76.2 cm (15.0–30.0 in) late spring (well after leaf emergence). The fruits are about 1 cm (0.39 in) diameter, range in color from bright red to black, with a very astringent taste, being both somewhat sour and somewhat bitter. The very ripe "berries" (actually drupes) are dark in color and less astringent and more sweet than when red and unripe.[6]


The chokeberries, genus Aronia, are sometimes confused with chokecherries due to their name, but chokecherries are the Prunus genus while chokeberries are in the Photinia genus.


Chokecherries are very high in antioxidant pigment compounds, such as anthocyanins. They share this property with chokeberries, further contributing to confusion.[6]

  • Prunus virginiana var. virginiana (the eastern chokecherry)
  • Prunus virginiana var. demissa (Nutt. ex Torr. & A.Gray) Torr. (the western chokecherry)
  • Prunus virginiana var. melanocarpa (A.Nelson) Sarg.
Chokecherry - habit

The wild chokecherry is often considered a pest, as it is a host for the tent caterpillar, a threat to other fruit plants. However, there are more appreciated cultivars of the chokecherry, such as 'Goertz', which has a nonastringent, and therefore palatable, fruit. Research at the University of Saskatchewan seeks to find and create new cultivars to increase production and processing.

Leaf of Saskatchewan plant

The chokecherry is closely related to the black cherry (Prunus serotina) of eastern North America; it is most readily distinguished from that by its smaller size (black cherry trees can reach 100 feet tall), smaller leaves, and sometimes red ripe fruit. The chokecherry leaf has a finely serrated margin and is dark green above with a paler underside, while the black cherry leaf has numerous blunt edges along its margin and is dark green and smooth.[9][6]

The name chokecherry has also been used (as Amur chokecherry) for the related Manchurian cherry or Amur cherry (Prunus maackii).

Food use

For many Native American tribes of the Northern Rockies, Northern Plains, and boreal forest region of Canada and the United States, chokecherries were the most important fruit in their diets. The bark of chokecherry root was once made into an asperous-textured concoction used to ward off or treat colds, fever and stomach maladies by native Americans.[10] The inner bark of the chokecherry, as well as red osier dogwood, or alder, was also used by natives in their smoking mixtures, known as kinnikinnick, to improve the taste of the bearberry leaf.[11] The chokecherry fruit can be used to make a jam, jelly, or syrup, but the bitter nature of the fruit requires sugar to sweeten the preserves.[12][13]

Chokecherry is toxic to horses, and moose, cattle, goats, deer, and other animals with segmented stomachs (rumens), especially after the leaves have wilted (such as after a frost or after branches have been broken) because wilting releases cyanide and makes the plant sweet. About 10–20 lbs of foliage can be fatal. Symptoms of a horse that has been poisoned include heavy breathing, agitation, and weakness. The leaves of the chokecherry serve as food for caterpillars of various Lepidoptera.[12] See List of Lepidoptera which feed on Prunus.

In 2007, Governor John Hoeven signed a bill naming the chokecherry the official fruit of the state of North Dakota, in part because its remains have been found at more archeological sites in the Dakotas than anywhere else.[14][12]

Chokecherry is also used to craft wine in the western United States mainly in the Dakotas and Utah as well as in Manitoba, Canada.[12]

Autumn foliage

See also


  1. ^ Rehder, A. 1940, reprinted 1977. Manual of cultivated trees and shrubs hardy in North America exclusive of the subtropical and warmer temperate regions. Macmillan publishing Co., Inc, New York.
  2. ^ "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". Retrieved January 27, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e  
  4. ^ Biota of North America Program 25014 state-level distribution map
  5. ^ SEINet, Southwestern Biodiversity, Arizona chapter photos, partial distribution map
  6. ^ a b c d Linnaeus, 1753. ChokecherryPrunus virginianaFlora of North America,
  7. ^ Farrar, J.L. 1995. Trees in Canada. Canadian Forest Service and Fitzhenry and Whiteside Limited, Markham.
  8. ^ L.Prunus virginianaThe Plant List,
  9. ^ Edible Wild Plants A North American Field Guide, Thomas S. Elias, Peter A. Dykeman, Sterling Publishing Company Inc., New York, NY, 1990. isbn:0-8069-7488-5
  10. ^ pg. 81, Trees of Michigan and the Upper Great Lakes 6th edition, Norman F. Smith, Thunder Bay Press, 2002
  11. ^ Staff (2009) "Bearberry" Discovering Lewis and Clark The Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation
  12. ^ a b c d Michigan State University Extension Information Management Program
  13. ^ Gibbons, Euell. 1962. Stalking the Wild Asparagus. David McKay, New York
  14. ^ Kindscher, K. 1987. Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide

External links

  • Health Alicious Ness, Nutrition Facts for Chokecherries
  • North Dakota State University Agriculture, Chokecherry
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