The Beautiful and Adaptable Aronia

Adapted from our eNews

October 2015

Looking to replace the non-native lilac or forsythia hedge in your yard? Consider one of the many beautiful native shrubs that we greatly under-utilize in landscaping. Chokeberry (Aronia spp.) is an adaptable shrub with full season interest: fragrant white flowers in spring, brilliant red/purple foliage in fall, and berries that may persist well into the winter. Commonly available cultivars are selected to have especially bright fall foliage.

Chokeberry grows easily in a wide range of soils from well drained to quite wet, and will tolerate poor, compacted soil well. It will take part shade to full sun, but flowers and berries more prolifically in sunny spots. Aronia can grow 6’ tall and (like lilac) tends to spread by suckering. It makes a good hedge or shrubby border. The species of Aronia, all three of which are native to New England, are most easily differentiated by the color of their berries: red (Aronia arbutifolia), purple (Aronia prunifolia), and black (Aronia melanocarpa).

Red chokeberry not only has red berries but also bright red fall foliage. The cultivar ‘Brilliantissima,” selected for its brilliant foliage, larger berries, and compact form, has become so popular that it is hard to find a nursery that grows the wild type. Although undoubtedly eye-catching, the relative wildlife value of this cultivar is unclear.

The berries of the black and purple chokeberries may be less showy, but they are edible to humans and rich in antioxidants. Since they also contain high levels of tannins, the taste can be astringent (hence “choke”), so they work best in jams or juices. If you want to grow chokeberries to feed the birds rather than yourself, be wary of the cultivars labeled Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’ or ‘Nero.’ They are known for their hefty fruit production and large berries, and are often grown agriculturally, but genetic testing has shown that they were actually developed from a hybrid of Aronia and European mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia).