Common names for plants are a funny thing. They run the gamut from evocative – Queen Anne’s lace, butterfly weed – to kind of horrifying. Black chokeberry is so named because the fruit is so overwhelmingly bitter and astringent that most who try and eat the berry straight off the bush will choke. Jams made with chokeberry are said to be delicious, but that must take a truckload of sugar (or half the amount in a Red Bull).
In the garden, Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is a delight. It’s native to Virginia, so it checks that box for a lot of my clients. In the wild, it grows in swamps and low areas. It can be grown from full sun to part shade, but you’ll get the best berry production in full sun. You’ll want the berries if you want to feed and attract birds. You’ll also want the berries because they’re strikingly dark. The flowers are beautiful clusters of white, five-petaled blooms. Aronia welcomes fall with wine red foliage.
Chokeberry spreads by suckering, so they need to be planted with care. It’s recommended that they be used for mass plantings, where one or two “bonus” plants popping up won’t be an issue. I have one planted on my patio corner to help hide an electrical outlet. Removing the root suckers will help keep it under control, and since that’s the end of the patio where I stand and keep an eye on my dogs, I’ll be able to stay on top of that task.
Chokeberry grows 3 to 6 feet tall and wide. There are a lot of websites that talk about the health benefits of chokeberry, but take them with a grain of salt. Trust me, any idiot can set up a website and call themselves an expert!