Common Name: Black Chokeberry, Aronia
Hardiness Zone: 3 to 8
Height: 3 to 6 ft
Width: 3 to 6 ft
Description: Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa or Photinia melanocarpa), also called aronia, is a shrub with berries known for their sour flavor and high antioxidant content. These berries, or pomes, are great for wildlife; but are also used by humans for wine, juice, tea, and natural dietary supplements. The fruit begins to form in the late summer and will ripen into the fall. As an urban plant, they are planted for their vibrant fall color and attractive berries. Another advantage of using aronia in urban areas is that it serves as a good alternative to other non-native species that may become invasive. The species is part of the Rosaceae (rose) family. The plant is native to the northeastern and Great Lakes region of United States and can also be found in the Appalachian Mountains at higher elevations (Brand). A. melanocarpa can be found growing naturally in a variety of conditions; swamps, bogs, lowland woods, along bodies of water, moist rocky seeps, savannas, sand dunes, dry rocky slopes, dry bluffs, and grasslands (Brand).
A. melanocarpa generally grows between 4 and 8 feet tall at maturity (Brand). The shrub’s twigs are slender, brown, and smooth. The leaves are dark green, 1-3” long and almond shaped, with the base of the leaf being slightly narrower and longer than the portion closest to the tip of the leaf. The leaf edges are jagged. The leaves and stem lack any pubescence which can help differentiate A. melanocarpa from some of its near relatives such as A. arbutifolia (red chokeberry) and A. prunifolia (purple chokeberry) which both exhibit varying degrees of pubescence (Brand). Black chokeberry has white and pink flowers with five petals that can be seen emerging during the spring. The species is monoecious with bisexual or perfect flowers. The fruit is dark purple to black in color, about the size of a blueberry, and hangs in clusters on a small stalk. Plants will sucker and spread clonally but tend not to be too aggressive (Brand). Planting in partial shade is tolerated by the plant, but fruit production will be negatively affected.
The antioxidant properties of the plant are due to the production of various polyphenolic compounds, such as cyanidin anthocyanins which affect the color of the berries (Taheri et al.).
Aronia will start to produce up to two pounds of fruit per plant 2 years after planting, with incremental increases in yield until it levels of in year 5 or 6. By this time, yield is approximately 15 to 20 pounds per plant; however, yields are also determined by plant spacing and the amount of light each plant receives. Europe reports higher yields, averaging 23 pounds per plant (AgMRC).
A. melanocarpa has been successfully crossed with European mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia), resulting in the variety known as ‘Ivan’s Beauty’ named after Russian plant breeder Ivan Michurin who developed the variety.
AgMRC & Hannan J. (2013) Aronia berries profile. Found Online: http://www.agmrc.org/commodities__products/fruits/aronia-berries-profile/
Brand M. (2010) Aronia: Native Shrubs With Untapped Potential. Arnoldia vol. 67 number 3.
Taheri R, Connolly B, Brand M, Bolling B. (2013) Underutilized Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa, Aronia arbutifolia, Aronia prunifolia) Accessions Are Rich Sources of Anthocyanins, Flavonoids, Hydroxycinnamic Acids, and Proanthocyanidins. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry vol. 61(36), pp. 8581-8.