There are two species of chokeberry found in the United States, one that produces red fruit, Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) and one that produces black fruit, Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpia).
Chokeberries are found in the Great Lakes and Northeast states and the Appalachian Region to the south. Both species are Frederick County natives and are often found near streams or wetlands in the mountainous areas. Chokeberries are relatively small shrubs growing to about 3 – 6 feet tall at maturity. They have simple, alternate leaves that are deciduous. Chokeberries bloom in May and produce fruit in late August to early September. Chokeberries are typically found in moist to wet conditions and can tolerate moderately shady conditions. Chokeberries are found in bottomlands, bogs, swampy forests and they are a common plant growing along shorelines in the Great Lakes. Chokeberries are grown for ornamental purposes. They are resistant to many insects and disease, have a fairly showy flower, bright red fall color, and the berries are readily consumed by a number of birds. Chokeberries are grown as seedlings, and they are often planted in reforestation and stream buffer plantings for wildlife.
Chokeberries get their name from their bitter fruit. Once cooked, however, the fruits can be used for juices, pies, bread, baked goods, yogurt, and jams. Chokeberries are full of antioxidants, especially the black chokeberry which contains some of the highest levels of phenolic phytochemicals, an antioxidant found in any fruit. Chokeberries are believed to prevent cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
The winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) is a native plant found in swamps and wet woods throughout the East from Alabama to Canada. This shrubby plant prefers acid soils and can grow to a height of about 20 feet when mature.
Winterberries have the male and female flowers on separate plants; you need male and female plants to produce berries. Winterberries are deciduous, but the reddish berry that forms in the fall persists well into the winter, providing color in the landscape. Winterberry holly berries and evergreen holly leaves are good for decorating during the holidays. It is this trait that provides the common name for the plant. These berries offer an emergency food source for many birds. Winterberries tend to form dense colonies of plants from seeds and sprouts. Winterberries are often employed for tree planting projects since they grow in wet conditions. A number of ornamental varieties of winterberry have also been developed for the landscape as well, and they are often planted in wet areas where other plants would not fare well.
There are specific male pollinators for each cultivar because the timing of the female bloom and male pollen production must match. Native Americans used the berry in a tonic, and the bark was used as an antiseptic providing the nickname fever bush for this plant.
Article by Ginny Brace and other FCFCDB members
Nature Note for 12/28/14