One of several varieties of shrub or small tree (Prunus virginiana) of the rose family, native to North America. Though it is aptly named for the astringent, acidic taste of its reddish cherries, its fruit may be made into jelly and preserves. The stones and wilted foliage are poisonous. The trees often form dense thickets on moist soils. They are frequently attacked and defoliated by eastern tent caterpillars. Foul-scented white flowers are produced in hanging spikes, and the slender brown twigs also have an unpleasant odour and a bitter taste.
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The Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) is a species of bird cherry (Prunus subgenus Padus) native to North America, where it is found almost throughout the continent except for the deep south and the far north. It is a suckering shrub or small tree growing to 5 m tall. The leaves are oval, 3-10 cm long, with a coarsely serrated margin. The flowers are produced in racemes of 15-30 in late spring (well after leaf emergence). The fruit are about 1 cm diameter, bright red, with a very astringent, sour taste. Like chokeberries, chokecherries are very high in antioxidant pigment compounds, like anthocyanins.
There are two varieties:
The wild Chokecherry is often considered a pest, as it is a host for the tent caterpillar, a threat to other fruit plants. However, there are more appreciated cultivars of the chokecherry, such as 'Goertz', which has a non-astringent, and therefore palatable, fruit. Research is being done at the University of Saskatchewan to find and create new cultivars to increase production and processing
Chokecherry is closely related to the Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) of eastern North America; it is most readily distinguished from that by its smaller size (Black Cherry can reach 30 m tall), smaller leaves, and sometimes red ripe fruit. The Chokecherry leaf has a finely serrated margin and is dark green above with a paler underside, while the Black Cherry leaf has numerous blunt edges along its margin and is dark green and smooth.,
The name chokecherry has also been used (as 'Amur Chokecherry') for the related Manchurian Cherry or Amur Cherry (Prunus maackii).
Chokecherry is toxic to horses, especially after the leaves have wilted (such as after a frost or after branches have been broken) because wilting releases cyanide and makes the plant sweet. About 5-10 kg of foliage can be fatal. Symptoms of a horse that has been poisoned include heavy breathing, agitation, and weakness. The leaves of the chokecherry serve as food for caterpillars of various Lepidoptera. See List of Lepidoptera which feed on Prunus.
In 2007, Governor John Hoeven signed a bill naming the chokecherry the official fruit of the State of North Dakota.