General: The common
name, chokecherry, came from the bitter and astringent taste of the fruit.
fruit was a staple for numerous Native American tribes across the North
American continent, especially those who lived on the plains and prairies.
The Cheyenne used the limbs to make arrow shafts and bows. The Crows used it
for tipi stakes and pins. Early trappers washed their steel traps in water
boiled with the bark to remove the scent.
In their journals, Lewis and Clark recorded that while
camped on the upper Missouri River Captain Lewis became will with abdominal
cramps and fever. He made a tea from chokecherry twigs and was well the next
The leaves, bark, stem, and seed pit of chokecherry are
all toxic due to production of hydrocyanic acid.
leaves of the chokecherry serve as food for caterpillars and the tree can be
a host for the tent caterpillar.
chokecherry may reach a height of over 30 feet. Its crown is irregular and
may spread between 10 to 20 feet. The stems are numerous and slender. The
chokecherry’s leaves are dark green and glossy above and paler below. They
are alternate on the stem shaped oval to broadly elliptic in shape and are
1” – 4” long and ¾” – 2” wide. The leaf edges are toothed with
closely-spaced sharp teeth pointing outward forming a serrated edge. They
turn yellow in autumn.
The bark of young trees may vary from gray to a reddish
brown. As it ages the bark turns darker, into brownish-black and becomes
noticeably furrowed. The bark is distinctly marked by horizontal rows of
raised air pores. With maturation the lenticels develop into shallow
It has perfect flowers which are aromatic and arranged in
cylindrical racemes 3 to 6 inches long. The racemes always grow on the
current year's leafy twig growth. Individual flowers are perfect, 1/4 to 3/8
inch in diameter with 5 white petals. The flowers start appearing before the
leaves are fully developed. Flowers may appear from April to July and fruits
form a couple of
Location: As can be
seen on the map, the chokecherry is widespread across North America.
Chokecherry is found in a large geographic area and it grows abundantly in
many habitat types
Edible: The flesh of
the fruit is edible. Also, jelly and jam can be made from the fruit. Native
Americans would mash the fruits and seeds and use it to mix with meat and
Sheri Hagwood @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA
NRCS. Wetland flora: Field office
illustrated guide to plant species. USDA
Natural Resources Conservation Service.
W.D. Brush @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database