<i>Aronia arbutifolia</i>

Plant Materials - Green Guide

Red chokeberry acts as a hardy hedge providing year-round interest

December 22, 2009

Aronia arbutifolia 'Brilliantissima'
Photo courtesy of Bill Hendricks
In the winter season, finding plants that retain color and interest may prove tricky. However, planting shrubs and groundcovers that berry into the early winter ensures a vibrant and attractive landscape.

Aronia arbutifolia (red chokeberry) is a deciduous shrub that offers year-round interest, with small white or pale pink flowers in the spring, dark greens leaves in the summer, crimson leaves in the fall and bright red berries throughout the winter. The flowers and berries attract a number of wildlife species, including songbirds, hummingbirds, mammals and some beneficial insects.

The flowers are small and hermaphroditic, with both male and female organs, and are pollinated by insects, such as butterflies. The flowers produce five petals in corymbs of 10-25 together.

The flowers are followed by clusters of abundant, glossy red berries measuring around 1/2 inch in size. The fruit ripens near the end of summer and lasts until early/mid winter. The berries have a very strong astringent flavor unpalatable to humans, but they are a favorite food of certain birds. The harsh flavor is the origin of the nickname “chokeberry.”

In the landscape
Red chokeberry can act as a hedge or screen, provide erosion control or border the lawn. It grows especially well when planted beneath larger trees.

It requires a well-drained soil and is adaptable to a wide variety of soils, including sandy, loamy and clay. The chokeberry grows best in partial shade. Plant in full sun for best fruit production.

Specifics
Name: Aronia arbutifolia

Common name: Red chokeberry.

Description: Small white or pale pink flowers appear in the spring, dark greens leaves in the summer, crimson leaves in the fall and bright red berries throughout the winter. It grows 6-12 feet high and 3-5 feet wide.

Cultural needs: It requires well-drained soils and is adaptable to a wide variety, including sandy, loamy and clay soils. The chokeberry grows best in partial shade, partial sun, and even full sun, which is best for fruit production.

Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9.
The red chokeberry grows 6-12 feet high and about 3-5 feet wide, with leaves between 2 and 3 inches long and heavily pubescent on the underside.

Plant as an addition to natural, woodland or informal settings. To prevent a “twiggy” appearance, plant en masse, or near larger trees or shrubs with contrasting features, such as evergreens. Other suggested companions to the red chokeberry are ‘Blue Blaze’ Arrowhead (Viburnum dentatum), ‘Winterthur’ Witherod (Viburnum nudum) and blackshaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium).

Red chokeberry is strong and resistant to drought, insects, pollution and disease and is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9. Frost protection is not necessary due to late blooming.

 

It’s native to Northeastern North America and is most commonly found in swamps, thickets and wet woods, but can tolerate drier soils in partial sun.

Red chokeberry, specifically ‘Brilliantissima’ along with many other natives, has gained in popularity in recent years, said Bill Hendricks owner of Klyn Nurseries in Perry, Ohio.

“I have grown and recommended this tough plant for use in landscapes for 40 years. It is amazing sometimes how long it takes for a plant to become popular,” Hendricks said. “Today, the cultivar of choice is ‘Brilliantissima’ with superior qualities to the species. The leaves are more lustrous dark green than the species and turn brilliant scarlet in fall. Add to these abundant clusters of white flowers in spring followed in fall by glossy red fruit on a plant that is more compact than the species.”

He recommends ‘Brilliantissima’ as an alternative to Euonymus alatus ‘Compacta’.

For more:
Klyn Nurseries, (800) 860-8104; www.klynnurseries.com.
 
This was adapted from a story in Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association’s The Buckeye, November 2009, Volume 20, Issue 11