Aronia - Red and Black Chokeberry
By Barry Fugatt
A debate rages within the gardening community over the use of native and non-native plant species. Some gardeners would like to see only native plants used. Others ardently resist the "native only" approach. Wisdom probably lies somewhere between the two extremes. It's clear, for instance, that the majority of gardeners will never forsake such wonderful Oriental species as crape myrtle, nandina and Japanese maples.
It's equally clear, however, that many native American species deserve a much wider planting in our gardens. The genus Aronia (chokeberry) quickly comes to mind.
Two garden-worthy species of Aronia, Red Chokeberry (A. arbutifolia), and Black Chokeberry (A. melanocarpa), occur over a wide range of Eastern North America, including the nearby Ozark Plateau. Good News! Wholesale nurseries such as industry giant, Greenleaf Nursery near Tahlequah, are increasingly propagating and including chokeberries in their inventories. I grow both red and black chokeberries in my garden, and it's a toss-up as to which I like best. Both are highly drought tolerant, fruitful and beautiful year round.
In the spring they cover themselves with two-inch clusters of tiny sweet scented flowers. Flowers are followed by lots of shiny green berries that mature over the summer, eventually turning bright red or black depending on the species.
By late fall, deep green foliage changes to flaming red. 'Brilliantissima', Brilliant Red Chokeberry, is an improved red-fruiting cultivar. It's one of the few deciduous shrubs that can equal burning bush when it comes to great fall color.
'Autumn Magic', a new and improved black chokeberry cultivar, is destined for greatness among mid-size deciduous shrubs. Its fruit set of small glossy black berries is excellent, and its fall foliage also is outstanding. 'Nero' and 'Viking' were developed in Europe, and they are renowned for setting huge crops of very large, edible black berries. Look for 'Brilliantissima' and 'Autumn Magic' in nurseries this fall or next spring. 'Nero' and 'Viking' are not available locally. They may be mail ordered from Raintree Nursery: www.raintreenursery.com.
ARONIA (chokeberry) Features
Common name: Red Chokeberry, Black Chokeberry
Genus/Species: Aronia arbutifolia, Aronia melanocarpa
Flowers/Fruit: 1 1/2 to 2 inch clusters of tiny sweet-scented white flowers in late April. Red chokeberries mature in early fall; berries are approximately 1/4 inch in diameter and persist well late into late winter. Black chokeberries mature in late summer; berries are large, 1/3 to 1/2 inch in diameter. Berries are tart but edible.
Form/Size: : Medium to large deciduous shrubs with upright-oval shape. Red varieties reach a height of six to ten feet. Black varieties mature at five to seven feet.
Culture: For best flower and fruit set, plant chokeberries in full sun location. They can tolerate dapple light environment, however. Chokeberries readily adapt to most soil environments that are reasonably well drained.
Landscape Uses: Chokeberries are ideally suited for accent and specimen use in the garden. A single plant or a group of three plants looks especially nice near a deck or patio. They also add interest to a mixed shrub border where their spring flowers, summer fruit, and dramatic fall foliage attract lots of attention.
Superior Cultivars (varieties):
- 'Brilliantissima' - Red Chokeberry
- 'Autumn Magic' - Black Chokeberry
- 'Viking' - Black Chokeberry, large fruit
- 'Nero' - Black Chokeberry, large fruit