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Wisconsin Plant of the Week

Aronia melanocarpa (Michx.) Elliott

Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Common Name:

black chokeberry


Black chokeberry is a native deciduous shrub that grows 1 to 2 m tall in bogs, swamps, wet woods and occasionally in dry sandy soil of oak woods and pine barrens. It can tolerate partial shade, but produces the most flowers and fruit, and the brightest red fall color, in full sun.

The leaves are up to 8 cm long, alternate, simple and elliptical with finely serrated edges.  Aronia is Wisconsin’s only shrub with black glands (use a lens) on the upper side of the leaf along the midrib.  The leaves typically only cover the top 2/3 of the bush, which makes the plants easy to spot from a distance.

The flowers bloom in May and June and are typical of the Rose family, similar to apples -- 5 separate sepals and petals and many, usually 20, stamens. The petals are white, rounded and with a short claw. The flowers are in loose clusters of 8 to 10 up to 5 cm across.

The fruit, which matures by late August, is round, up to 12 mm across,  dark purple to black, and in drooping clusters on long red stalks.  The fruit is technically a “pome”, like an apple or pear, where the seeds are in a stiff core surrounded by fleshy tissue. The fruit is sour, even when ripe, so that it persists until midwinter as a “last resort” food source for songbirds, upland game birds and small mammals. 

A. melanocarpa is completely smooth.  Wisconsin’s only other chokeberry, A. X prunifolia, is a hybrid between A. melanocarpa and an Appalachian species, A. arbutifolia.  The latter has dense fine hairs on the branches and the undersides of the leaves. The hybrid is hairy to varying degrees.

In northern Europe Aronia is commercially grown for bottled fruit juice. In the US it’s growing in popularity as a landscape shrub since it tolerates both wet and dry soil, is attractive from spring through fall and resists most diseases and pests.  The plants propagate easily by seed, cuttings and rhizomes.

  • Origin of the name: Aronia, ?; melanocarpa, melanos, Gr., dark, karpos, Gr., fruit
  • Range:  Eastern US to MN and adjacent southern Canada
  • WI Range:  Statewide
  • Common associates: Bog birch, tamarack, alder
  • Wetland Indicator Status: FACW-
  • Coefficient of Conservatism: C = 6 (S&W), C = 5 (MI)
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