Choke Cherry

Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana)


Commonly a shrub 6-20 feet (1.8-6.1 m) tall, with gray bark marked by small pale spots. Leaves are dark green and finely-toothed. Although the shape is oval, choke cherry leaves are broader near the tip than at the base, making them easy to recognize. Clusters of red cherries turn dark purple in late August and September. These fruits are very sour but are edible, and contain a single seed. Twigs are stout and when the bark is scraped, give off an unpleasant odor. Buds are alternate, pale brown and pointed.


Growing Conditions:

Common along edges of woodlands and in existing windbreaks, choke cherry prefers rich, moist well-drained soil and will not tolerate flooding. It will grow under light shading but best fruit production occurs in full sun


Young seedlings are easy to transplant where they can be found in the wild. When growing from seed, collect fruit when ripe in late-July through September and plant without cleaning. Each fruit contains one large pit.

Wildlife Uses:

Fruits are a preferred food for ruffed grouse, pileated woodpecker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, eastern kingbird, common crow, gray catbird, American robin, wood thrush, Swainson’s thrush, gray-cheeked thrush, eastern bluebird, cedar waxwing, European starling, rose-breasted grosbeak and evening grosbeak. Dozens of other bird species utilize the fruit to a lesser degree, as do many small mammals. In winter and spring, red fox, skunk, chipmunk and snowshoe hare browse twigs and buds. This shrub bears consistent, heavy crops of fruit.

Areas of Usage:

Although one of the best food sources for wildlife, regularly bearing heavy crops, choke cherry has some faults. The leaves are poisonous to humans and cattle, so this should be taken into consideration if there are young children around or cattle have access to the area. It also is a host of black knot fungus, showing up as black growths on branches, which make it less than ideal for landscaping around the home. Further, it is a host of another disease which will kill commercial cherry and peach trees nearby. Take this into consideration and avoid future difficulties with neighbors. So why plant choke cherries at all, especially since they can spread aggressively? They really are an excellent plant for wind-breaks if cattle are not farmed in the area. They can also be used in forest plantings when converting areas from old field white spruce to a mixed forest, providing shade and protection for other seedlings while attracting wildlife. Choke cherry is also resistant to salt and can be used along roadsides and shorelines. The closely-related pin cherry is also an exceptional wildlife plant but more often grows to a tree form and will be discussed in a future publication on native trees.

Additional Information:

Eastern Choke Cherry is fairly common throughout PEI. It is generally a shrub about 10 feet high. The trunks are slender often crooked and inclined, with narrow irregular crowns of slender erect or horizontal spreading branches. The Choke Cherry will not grow in the shade of other trees. It prefers a rich moist soil. It occurs scattered in small thickets along streams, fences, high-ways, the borders of forests and in small clearings. The wood of Coke Cherry, due to its small size, is of no commercial importance. The fruit is gathered for preserves or jellies.

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