NDSU Extension Service - Williams County

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Why Not Chokecherry

Published July 3, 2013
Why Not Chokecherry

Chokecherry

Why Not Chokecherry

Last year I devoted part or all of my weekly column describing trees that are found in this area. A couple of readers suggested I do the same for shrubs and smaller trees. Recently a wonderful lady who is enthused about promoting shrubs that bare edible fruits asked for information about chokecherry. She reminded me that, like her, there are many new people now living in this area who know very little about plant life adaptable to northwest North Dakota and northeast Montana. So, my lead-off shrub will be chokecherry.  I was fortunate to grow up in an area of North Dakota that had a lot of hardwood draws. Often near the oak and green ash trees we would find chokecherry, Juneberry, and plum bushes. I loved to fix fence or check cattle in those areas because there was a berry to be “had” for much of the summer. I don’t remember a year when chokecherries were not present. Some years the berries were bigger or smaller than the previous year.  The chokecherry is native to all parts of North Dakota. It is very resistant to the winter conditions of this state. In fact, it’s cold hardiness is rated as USDA Zone 2. It has moderate drought tolerance which is probably the reason it is found mostly in depressed areas of the native rangelands. It is adapted to a wide variety of soils including soil pH ranging from 5.0 to 8.0.  I have seen chokecherry reach upward of 15-20 feet. The North Dakota Tree Handbook states it can grow to 25 feet in height. Its mature height is likely a function of availability of growing season rainfall and soil type.  The chokecherry has been used primarily as a tall shrub for farmstead and field windbreaks, riparian plantings and highway beautification. Its suckering habit has discouraged homeowners from planting it in urban settings. However, both rural and urban folk like to make jellies and jams from the berries. I especially like to as it a syrup on pancakes.  Although the common chokecherry cannot be readily found in towns there is cultivar that is quite popular on city boulevards. That cultivar is Schubert (or Canada Red). This cultivar was developed by the Oscar Will Nursery of Bismarck by grafting a common chokecherry on Mayday tree rootstock to eliminate suckering. Now days, it is propagated largely from seed or cuttings.  Each year the leaves of Canada Red emerge as green in color but soon turn purple. As with most other trees and shrubs, Canada Red is not without problems. One of the most annoying is black knot, a fungus disease that is very prevalent this year.  There are other species closely related to chokecherry. These include the American plum, Mongolian and Nanking cherries, Russian almond, western sandcherry and the May Day.  If you can tolerate the suckering of chokecherry, you will certainly enjoy its’ many food benefits. Additionally, it is one of the most important plants for wildlife food and cover.

-Warren Froelich

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