A while back I wrote about trees for wet soil. Today, let’s take a look at two closely related native shrubs that do well in wet (and also well drained) spots, the chokeberries (Aronia). We will compare the Red vs Black chokeberry for landscape use.
Both choke berries are native to North America. The black chokeberry is native from Maine to Georgia and north to Minnesota, while red chokeberry is native from Maine to east Texas, but not the Midwest.
Pronounced: ah-ROE-nee-ah ar-bew-tih-FOE-lee-ah
Red chokeberry is a plant gardeners either love or hate.
Let’s look at it why you might love it first.
Red chokeberry pluses
It has white spring flowers that pollinators readily visit. Red chokeberry also has good red fall color.
More importantly for us among the frozen tundra of Chicago, it has bright red colored berries that usually last longer into winter than our Bear’s football season.
The red chokeberry is a native of much of the southeastern United States. It can be a useful native plant for wildlife due to it’s fruit being a winter food source for birds. Apparently, the birds do have to get pretty darn hungry before they will eat it, but they will.
The most popular cultivar, ‘Brilliantissima’ has larger red berries and more lustrous leaves.
And it’s minuses
If however, you are not aware that your new red chokeberry is going to be spreading, due to it’s suckering stems and plant it in a tight spot in the garden, you may start cursing it.
Also the fact it becomes a leggy plant with bare lower stems might disappoint you.
Apparently rabbits do like Red chokeberry, but not the berries, instead the stems.
These characteristics tend to limit the red chokeberry’s use as a general landscape shrub. If it’s suckering habit and leggy nature fit the spot it is going to be used, it can be a great shrub. It does work very well in naturalistic settings especially near water.
If you are not that impressed with the red chokeberry, you might want to take a look at it’s close relative, the black chokeberry .
Pronounced: ah-ROE-nee-ah mel-an-oh-KAR-pah
Black chokeberry is rising in popularity both among gardeners and landscapers. Although thankfully, it is much less popular among rabbits them it’s red relative.
It just might deserve some serious consideration as an addition to your garden. I know one landscape designer that would never consider putting a red chokeberry in one of their designs but regularly use the black chokeberry.
Black chokeberry and red chokeberry are in many ways two very similar plants. The color in their common name is conveniently the same as the color of their fruit (well duh, it would be just too confusing if it wasn’t).
Aronia a health food?
If you are interested in growing Aronia for it’s health benefits, the black chokeberry is the one you should be growing. Red chokeberries don’t have as many antioxidants as the black chokeberries.
Black Chokeberry fruit also has among the highest amount of antioxidants of any fruit and has potential health benefits. Although I wouldn’t recommend eating them fresh, some people do enjoy them fresh and freezing reduces their astringency.
There is a readily available cultivar of black chokeberry named ‘Viking’ that has larger fruit with a less astringent, more flavorful taste. Although trust me you are definitely not going to mistake it for a blueberry. ‘Viking’ is also valued for its ability to self-pollinate. It also has a great red fall color and makes a great ornamental shrub.
Chokeberries taste better dried and work well in muffins. You can also make jam or juices from them (with sugar added!).
As a ornamental shrub, Black chokeberry has a smaller, fuller, more attractive form than its red-fruiting relative.
A third chokeberry?
Well, it depends who you talk to. When Red and Black chokeberry cross, a hybrid species results. Where the two species overlap, they hybridize to form what some consider a third species, Aronia prunifolia but are usually just labeled as black chokeberries in the nursery trade.
These are very similar to black chokeberry, except that unlike black chokeberry, these hybrids produce excellent red fall color that is characteristic of red chokeberry. So probably selections of Black Chokeberry that have excellent red Fall color like ‘Morton’ probably have some red chokeberry blood (sap?) in them.
These hybrids may also hold fruit late into winter like the red chokeberry. Black chokeberry’s that are not hybrids drop their fruit in Fall or early winter.
Red vs Black Chokeberry, which will it be?
If we just consider the Red and Black chokeberry we see that the two species are very similar, with these differences:
- Hardiness range from 3 to 8;
- Grows 3 to 6 feet tall, 3 to 6 feet wide;
- Produces larger black fruits, that often drop in Fall or early winter;
- Tends to have a rounded habit and have leaves fuller to it’s base;
- Grows in nature in both wet and dry soils.
- Hardiness range from 4 to 9;
- Grows 6 to 10 feet tall, 3-6 feet wide ;
- Produces smaller red fruits that hold through winter;
- Tends to be leggy and leafless at it’s base and grow more upright;
- Grows in nature in mostly in wetter soils.
If you have a wetter spot, that could use spring flowers, fresh summer foliage, good fall color, and attractive fruit in the Fall – Winter, one of these chokeberry could be a great choice.