Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Prunus virginiana

Chokecherry, Common chokecherry, Choke cherry

Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Prunus virginiana (Chokecherry)
Flaigg, Norman G.
A large, deciduous shrub or small understory tree, choke cherry grows 20-30 ft. tall and often forms thickets. Dense clusters of white flowers are followed by red fruit ripening to dark purple from August to September (north) or June to August (south). Shrub or small tree, often forming dense thickets, with dark red or blackish chokecherries.

As the common name suggests, chokecherries are astringent or puckery, especially when immature or raw; but they can be made into preserves and jelly. Sometimes divided into three geographic varieties based on minor differences of leaves and fruits. Tent caterpillars (Malacosoma) often construct their silvery webs on the branches of this species.

Image Gallery:

12 photo(s) available

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf: Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Black, Purple, Red
Size Class: 12-36 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun , Jul


USA: AK , AZ , AR , CA , CO , CT , DE , GA , ID , IL , IN , IA , KS , KY , ME , MD , MA , MI , MN , MO , MT , NE , NV , NH , NJ , NM , NY , NC , ND , OH , OK , OR , PA , RI , SD , TN , TX , UT , VT , VA , WA , WV , WI , WY , DC
Canada: AB , BC , MB , NB , NL , NS , ON , PE , QC , SK
Native Distribution: Nf. to B.C., s. to NC, TN, n. AR, TX & s. CA
Native Habitat: Moist woods; stream banks; prairie hillsides; fence rows; rocky bluffs; roadsides

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist , Dry
Soil pH: Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Cold Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Rich, moist soils. Limestone-based, Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay
Conditions Comments: Chokecherry is remarkably shade tolerant and has impressive resilience under variable growing conditions. Branches break off easily in ice storms. Western material is var. demissa and var. melanocarpa.


Use Ornamental: Blooms ornamental, Showy, Fruits ornamental, Erosion control, Understory tree
Use Wildlife: Blue-black edible cherries, makes good jelly. Important food for wildlife in July and August.

Chokecherry is moderately palatable to all classes of livestock, although it is more heavily browsed by domestic sheep than by cattle. It is a preferred mule deer browse on many winter ranges throughout the Intermountain West and Northern Great Plains.

Chokecherry is widely regarded as an important wildlife food plant and provides habitat, watershed protection, and species diversity. Fruits, leaves, and twigs are utilized. Large mammals including bears, moose, coyotes, bighorn sheep, pronghorn , elk , and deer use chokecherry as browse. Chokecherry is also a food source for small mammals. The fruits are important food for many birds. Cattle and domestic sheep also eat chokecherry, and because of its toxicity, poisoning sometimes occurs. Livestock normally do not eat fatal quantities except when other forage is scarce. (USDA Forest Service)
Use Medicinal: Native peoples and settlers used chokecherry bark and roots to make sedatives, blood-fortifying tonics, appetite stimulants and medicinal teas for treating coughs, tuberculosis, malaria, stomachaches and intestinal worms. (Kershaw)
Warning: New growth, wilted leaves, or plant parts that are injured by frost or drought are poisonous to cattle and humans. The toxin, hydrocyanic acid, is formed in the animals stomach. Hydrocyanic acid quickly affects animals and causes difficulty in breathing, slow pulse, dilated pupils, staggering and loss of consciousness before death. Chokecherry toxicity is highest during the spring and summer; however, leaves are non-toxic by the time fruits mature. (Rangeland Ecosystems)

Children have been poisoned and have died after ingesting large quantities of berries, which contain the seeds. (Canadian Biodiversity Poisonous Plants)
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Fragrant Flowers: yes
Attracts: Butterflies
Larval Host: Columbia silkmoth

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Prunus virginiana is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
California Hairstreak
(Satyrium californica)

Food Source
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Sequoia sphinx
(Sphinx sequoiae)

Food Source
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Small-eyed sphinx
(Paonias myops)

Larval Host
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Columbia silkmoth
(Hyalophora columbia)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Last Update: 2009-02-18