Prunus virginiana



The Basics

Taxonomy: Kingdom - Plantae (plants). Subkingdom - Tracheobionta (vascular plants). Superdivision - Spermatophyta (seed plants). Division - Magnoliophyta (flowering plants). Class - Magnoliopsida (dicotyledons). Subclass - Rosidae. Order - Rosales. Family - Rosaceae (rose). Genus - Prunus L. Species - Prunus virginiana L.

Ecology: Because chokecherry occurs so widely, it is reported in numerous habitat types and plant associations that range from post-disturbance invaders to early-successional to climax or stable. It grows in sparse stands, dense thickets, and under open forest canopies. It is shade tolerant, but reaches its greatest density near forest edges. In the western United States, chokecherry grows at low to mid-elevations in positions in the landscape where combinations of soil and topography permit greater than average accumulation of moisture. These sites include riparian areas, wooded draws, and steep ravines.


Habit: Shrub, small tree < 6(10) m, often in thickets, not thorny. Leaf: deciduous; petiole 10--25 mm; blade 30--100 mm, elliptic to oblanceolate, finely serrate, base obtuse to subcordate, tip acuminate to obtuse. Inflorescence: raceme; flowers 18--many; pedicels 5--8(16) mm. Flower: sepals glabrous, gland-toothed; petals 4--7 mm, white. Fruit: 6--14 mm, glabrous, red to black; pulp fleshy.


Fire effects: Chokecherry is well adapted to disturbance by fire. Fire often kills aboveground chokecherry stems and foliage, but it quickly sprouts from rhizomes and root crown, either the same year following a spring burn, or by the next growing season.


Seed Production - Perfect flowers are borne on leafy twigs of the season. Fruits are drupes, each containing a small stone...Seeds are surrounded by a stony endocarp that may offer some resistance to germination but is permeable to moisture. Chokecherry has seed dormancy; an after-ripening period in the presence of oxygen and moisture is necessary for adequate germination...Removal of fruit pulp was critical for germination, but they found no differences in germination success between seeds manually cleaned of pulp and bird-passed seeds lacking pulp.

Seed Dispersal - Although large numbers of chokecherry seeds may be deposited beneath parent plants, long-distance dispersal also occurs via frugivorous birds and mammals.

Seed Bank - Viable seed persists in the soil seedbank. In a closed-canopy forest in northern Idaho, chokecherry seeds were found in soil samples taken at depths of up to 10 cm.

Vegetative Regeneration - Chokecherries have a network of rhizomes and a deep root system established at intervals along the rhizomes.

Species Distribution


USDA Plants Database
USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

USFS Plant Database
Habeck, R. J. 1992. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.

Flora of North America
Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 19+ vols. New York and Oxford.

The Jepson Herbarium
The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California. B.G. Baldwin, D.H. Goldman, D.J. Keil, R. Patterson, T.J. Rosatti, and D.H. Wilken [editors]. 2012. 2nd edition, thoroughly revised and expanded. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
Burke Museum. 2016 [Online]. University of Washington.
Photo credit: Ben Legler 2005