Prunus virginiana (Chokecherry)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Rosaceae (Rose)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, shade, sun; open woods, forest edges and openings, fencerows, riverbanks, roadsides
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:10 to 25 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] Numerous nodding, cylindrical racemes 2 to 4 inches long, at the tips and small lateral shoots of branches, each with 20 to 50 short-stalked flowers. Flowers are about 1/3 inch across with 5 white, round petals, an orange-yellow center with a ring of yellow tipped stamens around a single central style. The 5 sepals are 1/3 or less the length of the petals, oblong to triangular, with glands or glandular serrations along the edges. Flower stalks are slender and hairless.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are simple and alternate, 2½ to 4 inches long and to 1 to 2 1/3 inches wide, abruptly tapered to a sharp point, rounded at the base, on a 1/3 to ¾ inch stalk with 1 to several glands near the blade. The blade shape is generally oval but widest at or above the middle. The upper surface is dark green and glossy, the lower surface lighter and mostly smooth or with white or yellowish hairs in the axils of the lateral veins. Edges are finely serrated with sharp teeth.

[photo of twig] Twigs are reddish brown to brown or gray, smooth or occasionally finely hairy. Bud scales are reddish brown with pale edging.

[photo of bark] Bark is brownish gray to gray, smooth with pale horizontal lenticels, becoming roughish on older trunks. Branches are ascending to widely spreading , the trunk is typically short and rarely over 5 inches in diameter at breast height. It can sucker heavily from its roots creating dense, clonal thickets.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a shiny, round drupe, reddish purple to nearly black,  around 1/3 inch in diameter and a single hard seed inside. The sepals wither away as fruit develops and are not persistent.


Chokecherry is one of the most common and ubiquetous trees/shrubs in North America. It is broadly adapted, inhabiting forestlands, prairie margins and mid-alpine regions. While its fruit is known to contain high concentrations of hydrogen cyanide, mostly in the seed, it is highly favored by birds who help spread it into human landscapes where it readily establishes. While there are several horticultural varieties selected for their dark purple summer leaves, its tendency to root sucker as well as its high susceptability to the fungal disease black knot that can severaly disfigure its branches and form have limited its use in urban landscapes. Chokecherry may be confused with a small Black Cherry tree (Prunus serotina), which has similar cylindrical flower clusters but grows well over 50 feet tall, has proportionately narrower leaves, sepals that persist in fruit, rusty colored hairs along the leaf midvien near the base, and older trees with bark having coarse, scaly plates. Common Buckthorn is also sometimes mistaken for a Prunus species. Some references list multiple variations of P. virginiana but they are not recognized in Minnesota.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka and Ramsey counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Mary
on: 2015-07-30 23:17:25

Am looking for some chokecherries that I can pick. I live near St. Paul. Any direction would be appreciated.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2015-07-31 10:05:17

Mary, this applies to any collection of plants or foraging in MN: get the landowner's permission. If it's public land, check with the county or state.

Posted by: David - Champlin
on: 2015-09-14 19:16:54

After looking at the photographs again, especially the bark, I think what I have is a very large chokecherry tree.

Posted by: Therese - St. Paul
on: 2016-04-05 15:15:52

I work for a museum and need to take a picture of a chokecherry loaded with fruit for an exhibit game. When does it fruit? And where might I be able to take a photo of one? Is there a state park where I might find some? thanks - Therese

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2016-04-05 15:40:22

Therese, you might contact the naturalist at a nearby state park or nature center, or the county parks and rec department. Their natural resources manager may be able to help you on specific locations, but this species is widespread so you shouldn't have too much difficulty finding it.

Posted by: Jean - New Brighton
on: 2016-07-23 16:27:51

Is the chokecherry flower fragrant?

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