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Prunus virginiana (Chokecherry)
Wasowski, Sally and Andy

Prunus virginiana

Prunus virginiana L.

Chokecherry, Common Chokecherry, Choke Cherry

Rosaceae (Rose Family)



USDA Native Status: L48 (N), AK (I), CAN (N), SPM (N)

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.


From the Image Gallery

32 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Fruit Type: Drupe
Size Notes: Up to about 30 feet tall.
Leaf: Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Black, Purple, Red.

Bloom Information

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


USA: AK , AR , AZ , CA , CO , CT , DC , DE , GA , IA , ID , IL , IN , KS , KY , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MT , NC , ND , NE , NH , NJ , NM , NV , NY , OH , OK , OR , PA , RI , SD , TN , TX , UT , VA , VT , WA , WI , WV , WY
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: Dry , Moist
Soil pH: Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Drought 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 animal's 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

Value to Beneficial Insects

Special Value to Native Bees

This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

California Hairstreak
(Satyrium californica)

Adult Food Source
Learn more at BAMONA
Sequoia sphinx
(Sphinx sequoiae)

Adult Food Source
Learn more at BAMONA
Small-eyed sphinx
(Paonias myops)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA
Columbia silkmoth
(Hyalophora columbia)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA


Description: In addition to seed, Prunus species may be rooted from dormant hardwood, softwood, semi-hardwood, or root cuttings. Semi-hardwood and softwood cuttings taken in summer root easiest. Separate suckers from parent plant in spring.
Seed Collection: Collect fruit when it is filled out, firm, and its ripe color. Clean seeds from pulp and briefly air dry. (Seeds to be sown immediately in fall do not need drying.) Storage viability is maintained at 31-41 degrees.
Seed Treatment: Stratify seeds in moist sand for 2 weeks in a greenhouse, then cold stratify (36-41 degrees) for 60-90 days. Plant well before high temperatures.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX
Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR


Bibref 1186 - Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America (2005) Covell, C.V., Jr.
Bibref 1185 - Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides) (1999) Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright
Bibref 946 - Gardening with Prairie Plants: How to Create Beautiful Native Landscapes (2002) Wasowski, Sally
Bibref 355 - Landscaping with Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest (1991) Miller, G. O.
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender
Bibref 297 - Trees of Central Texas (1984) Vines, Robert A.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 30 - Calflora (2018) Calflora
Webref 3 - Flora of North America (2014) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

Additional resources

USDA: Find Prunus virginiana in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Prunus virginiana in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Prunus virginiana


Record Modified: 2023-05-10
Research By: TWC Staff

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