Prunus virginiana

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Prunus virginiana
Prunus virginiana var. virginiana (eastern chokecherry) in bloom
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Rosaceae
Genus: Prunus
Subgenus: Prunus subg. Padus
P. virginiana
Binomial name
Prunus virginiana
Natural range
    • Cerasus virginica Michx. ex hort.
    • Padus rubra Mill.
    • Padus virginiana (L.) Mill.
    • Padus virginiana (L.) M.Roem.
    • Prunus virginica Steud.
    • Cerasus demissa Nutt. ex Torr. & A.Gray, syn of var. demissa
    • Padus demissa (Nutt. ex Torr. & A.Gray) M.Roem., syn of var. demissa
    • Prunus demissa (Nutt. ex Torr. & A.Gray) Walp., syn of var. demissa
    • Padus melanocarpa (A.Nelson) Shafer, syn of var. melanocarpa
    • Prunus melanocarpa (A.Nelson) Rydb., syn of var. melanocarpa
    • Padus valida Wooton & Standl
    • Prunus valida (Wooton & Standl.) Rydb.
    • Prunus virginalis Wender.
    • Prunus arguta Bigel. ex M. Roem.
    • Prunus canadensis Marshall
    • Prunus densiflora Steud.
    • Prunus duerinckii Walp.
    • Prunus dumosa Salisb.
    • Prunus fimbriata Steud.
    • Prunus micrantha Steud.
    • Prunus montana Hort. ex C. Koch
    • Prunus obovata Bigel.
    • Prunus rubra Ait.

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.


Chokecherry is a suckering shrub or small tree growing to 1–6 metres (3+1219+12 feet) tall, rarely to 10 m (33 ft) and exceptionally wide, 18 m (60 ft) with a trunk as thick as 30 centimetres (12 in).[4] The leaves are oval, 2.5–10 cm (1–4 in) long and 1.2–5 cm (12–2 in) wide, with a serrated margin.[5] The stems rarely exceed 2 cm (34 in) in length.[6]

The flowers are produced in racemes 4–11 cm (1+124+14 in) long in late spring (well after leaf emergence), eventually growing up to 15 cm.[4] They are 8.5–12.7 millimetres (3812 in) across.[7][8]

The fruits (drupes) are about 6–14 mm (1412 in) in diameter, range in color from bright red to black, and possess a very astringent taste, being both somewhat sour and somewhat bitter. They get darker and marginally sweeter as they ripen.[5] They each contain a large stone.[6]


Chokecherries are very high in antioxidant pigment compounds, such as anthocyanins. They share this property with chokeberries, further contributing to confusion.[5]

Similar species[edit]

The chokecherry is closely related to the black cherry (Prunus serotina) of eastern North America, which can reach 30 m (100 ft) tall and has larger leaves and darker 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.[5][9]


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


  • Prunus virginiana var. virginiana (eastern chokecherry)
  • Prunus virginiana var. demissa (Nutt. ex Torr. & A.Gray) Torr. (western chokecherry)
  • Prunus virginiana var. melanocarpa (A.Nelson) Sarg.[10][2]


The natural historic range of P. virginiana includes most of Canada (including Northwest Territories, 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, Durango, Zacatecas, Coahuila, and Nuevo León).[11][12][5][additional citation(s) needed]


The wild chokecherry is often considered a pest, as it is a host for the tent caterpillar, a threat to other fruit plants. It is also a larval host to the black-waved flannel moth, the blinded sphinx, the cecropia moth, the coral hairstreak, the cynthia moth, the elm sphinx, Glover's silkmoth, the hummingbird clearwing moth, the imperial moth, the Io moth, the polyphemus moth, the promethea moth, the red-spotted purple, the small-eyed sphinx, the spring azure, the striped hairstreak, the tiger swallowtail, the twin-spotted sphinx, and Weidemeyer's admiral.[13]

Many wildlife, including birds and game animals, eat the berries.[6] Moose, elk, mountain sheep, deer and rabbits eat the foliage, twigs, leaves, and buds.[6] Deer and elk sometimes browse the twigs profusely, not letting the plant grow above knee height.[4] The leaves serve as food for caterpillars of various Lepidoptera.


The chokecherry has a number of cultivars. 'Canada Red' and 'Schubert' have leaves that mature to purple and turn orange and red in the autumn.[14] 'Goertz' has a nonastringent, so palatable, fruit. Research at the University of Saskatchewan seeks to find or create new cultivars to increase production and processing.


The stone of the fruit is poisonous.[15] Chokecherry, including the foliage, is toxic[6] to horses, 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); wilting releases cyanide and makes the plant sweet. About 4.5–9 kilograms (10–20 pounds) of foliage can be fatal. In horses, symptoms include heavy breathing, agitation, and weakness.[citation needed]


Many chokecherries in a red Dutch oven on the stove.
Chokecherries being prepared for wojapi.

For many Native American tribes of the Northern Rockies, Northern Plains, and boreal forest region of Canada and the United States, chokecherries are the most important fruit in their traditional diets and are part of pemmican, a staple traditional food. The bark of chokecherry root is made into an asperous-textured concoction used to ward off or treat colds, fever and stomach maladies by Native Americans.[16] The inner bark of the chokecherry, as well as red osier dogwood, or alder, is also used by some tribes in ceremonial smoking mixtures, known as kinnikinnick.[17] The chokecherry fruit can be eaten when fully ripe, but otherwise contains a toxin.[18] The fruit can be used to make jam or syrup, but the bitter nature of the fruit requires sugar to sweeten the preserves.[19] The Plains Indians pound up the whole fruits—including the toxic pits—in a mortar, from which they made sun-baked cakes.[20]

Chokecherry is also used to craft wine[6] in the Western United States, mainly in the Dakotas and Utah, as well as in Manitoba, Canada.

In culture[edit]

In 2007, North Dakota governor John Hoeven signed a bill naming the chokecherry the state's official fruit, in part because its remains have been found at more archeological sites in the Dakotas than anywhere else.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI).; IUCN SSC Global Tree Specialist Group (2018). "Prunus virginiana". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T64133468A135957714. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T64133468A135957714.en. Retrieved 18 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Prunus virginiana". Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh. Retrieved January 27, 2014 – via The Plant List. Note that this website has been superseded by World Flora Online
  3. ^ a b c d e "Prunus virginiana". Germplasm Resources Information Network. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Arno, Stephen F.; Hammerly, Ramona P. (2020) [1977]. Northwest Trees: Identifying & Understanding the Region's Native Trees (field guide ed.). Seattle: Mountaineers Books. pp. 242–245. ISBN 978-1-68051-329-5. OCLC 1141235469.
  5. ^ a b c d e Rohrer, Joseph R. (2014). "Prunus virginiana". In Flora of North America Editorial Committee (ed.). Flora of North America North of Mexico (FNA). Vol. 9. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press – via, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Angier, Bradford (1974). Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books. p. 52. ISBN 0-8117-0616-8. OCLC 799792.
  7. ^ Hilty, John (2020). "Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)". Illinois Wildflowers. Retrieved 6 June 2023.
  8. ^ Chayka, Katy; Dziuk, Peter (2016). "Prunus virginiana (Chokecherry)". Minnesota Wildflowers. Retrieved 7 June 2023.
  9. ^ Elias, Thomas S.; Dykeman, Peter A. (1990). Edible Wild Plants A North American Field Guide. New York: Sterling Publishing. ISBN 0-8069-7488-5.
  10. ^ Farrar, J.L. (1995). Trees in Canada. Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry & Whiteside. ISBN 9781550411997.
  11. ^ "Prunus virginiana". State-level distribution map from the North American Plant Atlas (NAPA). Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2014.
  12. ^ "Prunus virginiana: photos, partial distribution map". SEINet, Arizona–New Mexico chapter.
  13. ^ The Xerces Society (2016), Gardening for Butterflies: How You Can Attract and Protect Beautiful, Beneficial Insects, Timber Press.
  14. ^ "Prunus virginiana--Chokecherry". Ornamental Plants plus Version 3.0. Michigan State University Extension. Michigan State University. Archived from the original on 2001-11-26.
  15. ^ Whitney, Stephen (1985). Western Forests (The Audubon Society Nature Guides). New York: Knopf. p. 423. ISBN 0-394-73127-1.
  16. ^ Smith, Norman F. (2002). Trees of Michigan and the Upper Great Lakes (6th ed.). Thunder Bay Press. p. 81.
  17. ^ "Bearberry". Discovering Lewis and Clark. The Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation. 2009. Archived from the original on 2010-12-18. Retrieved 2011-04-29.
  18. ^ Benoliel, Doug (2011). Northwest Foraging: The Classic Guide to Edible Plants of the Pacific Northwest (Rev. and updated ed.). Seattle, WA: Skipstone. p. 69. ISBN 978-1-59485-366-1. OCLC 668195076.
  19. ^ Gibbons, Euell (1962). Stalking the Wild Asparagus. New York: David McKay.
  20. ^ Peattie, Donald Culross (1953). A Natural History of Western Trees. New York: Bonanza Books. pp. 540–41.
  21. ^ Kindscher, K. (1987). Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide.

External links[edit]