A member of the rose family, chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) is a shrub or small tree that can grow to be anywhere between 6 feet to 50 feet tall depending on conditions. The tree flowers in late spring before producing edible, sour fruits. Chokecherry tree is sometimes cultivated as a naturalizing element in the home wildlife garden.
Chokecherry is native to much of the United States, as well as parts of Canada. The tree often grows in the moist soils near streams in foothills and mountain canyons at an elevation between 4,900 to 10,200 feet. Chokecherry prefers sunny situations, though it is more shade tolerant than many other cherry trees. Chokecherry is a suitable landscape plant for USDA zones 2 to 6. Commonly cultivated varieties include Schubert and Canada Red.
Chokecherry is tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions in its native range. The tree is highly resistant to drought, heat and salty, coastal conditions. Chokecherry is a suitable tree for a full sun or partial shade location with well draining soil. Young trees require regular watering during the growing season, ideally about 1 inch of water per week. Once established, chokecherry only requires supplemental watering during severe summer drought.
Chokecherry fruits are edible and used to make wine, syrup and jams. Fruits have traditionally been used to treat canker sores and cold sores. Chokecherry is ideal for the wildlife-oriented garden, acting as a host for more than 200 species of butterflies and moths, including Canadian and Eastern tiger swallowtails. Approximately 70 bird species eat the berries, including woodpeckers, cedar waxwings and thrushes. Deer and moose enjoy the foliage.
Though the fruits are edible, chokecherry leaves, seeds and stems contain toxic quantities of hydrocyanic acid. Poisoning sometimes occur when cattle, sheep and other kinds of livestock eat excessive amounts of chokecherry foliage. Poisoning symptoms include distress, rapid breathing, muscle twitching, coma and in rare instances, death. Animals infrequently eat fatal amounts of chokeberry, unless other types of plants are scarce.