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Permaculture Plants: Aronia or Chokeberry




  • Aronia, or Chokeberry, is a great shrub for the Forest Garden
    Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)
     

    Common Name: Aronia, Chokeberry
    Scientific Name: Aronia species
    Family: Rosaceae (the Rose family)

    Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)
     

    Species: 

    • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) – Large Shrub, Red Fruit
    • Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) – Small to Medium-sized Shrub, Dark Purple-Black Fruit
    • Purple Chokeberry (Aronia prunifolia) – natural hybrid of Red and Black Chokeberry, but is now likely its own species
     
    Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)
     

    Description:
    The North American shrub known as Chokeberry had an extreme makeover once its nutritional profile was discovered. High in vitamin C and antioxidants, it is being touted as the healthiest fruit in the world. This new “superfood” was re-branded as Aronia (its scientific name), and it is now a common addition to juices and other health snacks. Typically a bit too astringent to eat raw, hence the original name, the fruit can easily be used in jams and jellies and even wines. It can also be made into syrup and tea. In the Forest Garden, it will attract beneficial insects, can withstand periods of drought, can be used as a windbreak and fruit-bearing hedge, and is strikingly beautiful most of the year.

    Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) by Mary Walcott, 1925
     

    History:
    The Aronia species are native to eastern North America. They have likely been used for thousands of years by natives for food and medicine. They have been used for some time as ornamentals, but it is only recently that they have become significantly more popular once they gained “health food” status.

    Trivia:

    • The common name “Chokeberry” was given because, when raw, the fruit is typically too astringent (drying or mouth puckering). Many birds will avoid this berry until all other fruit sources are gone. This will often leave the fruit on the plants through mid-Winter.
    • The Aronia (aka ChokeBERRY) should not be confused with Prunus virginiana, the ChokeCHERRY, although fruits from both similar-looking plants are edible.
    • The fruit of Aronia is very high in vitamin C and antioxidants (specifically anthocyanins found in the Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa).
    • A mature plant can have up to 40 canes per shrub.
    Apple and Chokeberry Wine
     
    Chokeberry Jam
     

    USING THIS PLANT
    Primary Uses:

    • Edible fruit – usually cooked. Some improved varieties are mild enough to be eaten raw (see Trivia above).
    • Preserved Fruit – jams, jellies, preserves, etc. (naturally high in pectin). Can also be dried and used in teas and pemmican.
    • Fruit Juice – if mixed in a 1:1 ratio with another juice that is naturally sweet (like apple juice), then no other sweetener is needed
    • Juice can be reduced with heat to make syrup.
    • Primary or adjunct flavor in wines, but likely could be used in beers and liquors.
    • Tea Plant (dried fruits are used)
    • Fruit Leather


    Secondary Uses:

    • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
    • Wildlife food plant, especially birds, in Winter
    • Wildlife shelter plant for small mammals and birds
    • Groundcover plant – Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), plant 3-4 feet (1 meter) apart
    • Ornamental Garden Plant
    • Drought-Resistant Plant – can withstand low water periods, but not extremely prolonged dry periods.
    • Windbreak species
    • Living Fence species
    Yield: This varies dramatically on age, variety, and growing conditions, but a mature plant can average 22 lbs (10 kg) per year. Reports of almost 40 lbs (17 kg) per bush have been reported.

    Harvesting: Autumn. Only harvest when fully ripe. Taste is better after a frost. A berry comb will greatly assist harvesting the small fruits.
    Storage: Best when used fresh. Can be stored in a cool place (like a refrigerator) for up to two weeks.

    Aronia can be used as a hedge or windbreak…
    Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)
     
    …and it is beautiful in the Autumn…
    Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)
     
    …and Winter.
    Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)
     

    DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
    USDA Hardiness Zone:

    • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) – Zone 4-9
    • Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) – Zone 3-8
    • Purple Chokeberry (Aronia prunifolia) – Zone 4-7


    AHS Heat Zone:

    • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) – Zone 8-4
    • Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) – Zone 8-1
    • Purple Chokeberry (Aronia prunifolia) – Zone 8-1 


    Chill Requirement: Likely, but no tested information is available; however, some studious amateurs suggest 800-1,000 chilling hours/units are needed for good flowering.

    Plant Type: Shrub
    Leaf Type: Deciduous
    Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer, Groundcover Layer
    Cultivars/Varieties: Multiple varieties available

    Pollination: Self-Pollinating. Pollinated by insects.
    Flowering: Spring-Summer (May-June)

    Life Span:
    Years to Begin Bearing: 2-3 years
    Years of Useful Life: No good information available, but this plant freely suckers. As one plant is starting to decline, a suckering plant can be established to take the original plant’s place in the garden and in production.

    Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)
     
     

    PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
    Size: 

    • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) – 6-13 feet (1.8-4 meters) tall and 3-9 feet (0.9-3 meters) wide
    • Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) – 1.5-6 feet (0.4-1.8 meters) tall and 6-10 feet (1.8-3 meters) wide
    • Purple Chokeberry (Aronia prunifolia) – 6-9 feet (1.8-3 meters) tall and 3-8 feet (0.9-2.5 meters) wide


    Roots: Fibrous with the ability to sucker (send up shoots from underground roots)

    Growth Rate: 

    • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) – Slow
    • Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) – Slow to Fast (depending on environmental factors)
    These shrubs can be quite prolific!

    GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
    Light: Full to partial sun
    Shade: Tolerates moderate shade, but fruit production is lower
    Moisture: Can grow in wet to dry soils
    pH: prefers acidic to neutral soil (5.1 – 6.5), but can grow in a wide range (5.0-8.5)

    Special Considerations for Growing: 

    • Consider growing an improved variety for more or larger fruits.
    • Aronia does not tolerate juglone (a natural growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut and its relatives). Consider using another plant as a buffer between your walnuts and Aronias.


    Propagation: 
    Usually from seed. Needs 12-13 weeks cold stratification for germination. Can be propagated from cuttings of half-ripe wood in Summer (cut one half inch below a node). Can divide suckers in late Autumn and Winter when the plant is dormant.

    Maintenance:
    Minimal, but will need to cut back suckers if not wanted. Also, thinning older canes once every few years will keep the plants more productive.

    Concerns:
    Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) can sucker a bit more aggressively than the Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa); however, these are rarely invasive.

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