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?

Posted by: john hunter - st paul
on: 2019-05-22 00:33:39

Looking for chokecherry bush in metro area, any suggestions on specific park to contact/look?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2019-05-22 05:58:02

John, we don't track that information.

Posted by: DB - Stillwater
on: 2019-06-01 23:04:46

As kid 50 - 60 years, I picked chokecherries so that Mom could make chokecherry jam. Delicious! Now I have not seen chokecherry bushes for decades. I do not see them in understories of woods, and I do not see them on fencelines. Why have they disappeared?

Posted by: DB - Stillwater
on: 2019-06-01 23:09:12

I have cleared about 6 acres of my land from buckthorn. (4 acres left to go!) I am mowing to prevent regrowth, but I will not be able to keep up this much mowing, so I want to eventually plant something that has a chance against Buckthorn. I am thinking of planting chokecherry since the chokecherry I remember from my youth seems very similar to buckthorn. And I have found a place that sells chokecherry. Any ideas on whether the chokecherry would stand a chance against Buckthorn?

Posted by: K.S. - Bemidji
on: 2019-06-06 08:55:15

I have chokecherry growing alongside what I think is black cherry in open spots in our meadow and on the edges of some trails. The chokecherry has flowered out and is now easy to spot. I want to remove the chokecherry and its saplings from certain areas as we have horses and we are looking to expand our pasture to a new field. Chokecherry is deadly for them if ingested. I see comments of people wanting chokecherry for its fruit, curious as to who else is in my boat (not wanting it) and any input!

Posted by: Beverly Tharaldson - Kandiyohi County
on: 2019-06-06 20:46:59

I have been digging out chokecherry trees for the last several days. The sucker roots make it harder to dig. They have spread so tight together that I don't think any benefit from the space. I prefer to make my jelly from wild grapes. Much easier to control and take up less space.

Posted by: Roger P Geimer - Akeley
on: 2019-07-07 09:13:38

Is the Black Knot Fungus bad for the chokecherry trees? Should I remove it? Also seems like I have fewer berries this year are they on a cycle?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2019-07-07 10:47:23

Roger, here is info from UM Extension regarding black knot.

Posted by: Mark - Minneapolis
on: 2019-11-11 19:07:11

I do know that the Chokecherrys are the namesake of Cherry Creek State Park.

Posted by: Cindy - MANKATO
on: 2020-04-30 17:44:04

I discovered some Chokecherry bushes at the edge of our ravine this week. I almost cut then down thinking they were buckthorns, but notices the flower buds and a couple black knots. Someone thought they were black cherry, but the leaves are more oval than black cherry (which is why I mistook them as buckthorns). I'm happy to not have to chop them down!

Posted by: lluciearl - Lake Shore
on: 2020-05-06 10:29:16

Roger in Akeley. Black knot. In place of fungicides, cut out the black knot and burn. Cutting out and piling in a different location will only make it spread. Since it is attractive to birds, bees, and wildlife, I'd chose this method over fungicides.

Posted by: D.B. - Brainerd
on: 2020-08-15 00:00:26

I'm with K.S.: I want to kill the chokecherry trees and sprouts on my newly-purchased property. What will work best?

Posted by: SusAnn Oolman - Hayward
on: 2022-05-15 10:48:09

Jean, to address your question chokecherry blooms are very frangrant, as a child on the prairies of South Dakota it was my habinger of spring. It is a most wonderful scent. The blooms are great for pollinators, fruit makes a wonderful jam. It is a lot of work with a distinct taste. Birds love the berries, especially wax wings.

Posted by: Susan Premo - St. Paul
on: 2022-05-28 11:42:48

Birds gifted us a chokecherry it's a handsome tree, not as much when the leaves turn. It's been here about 4 or 5 years now. This site really helped us figure it out. Figured some kind of cherry, but nice to know for certain.

Posted by: John - Houston County
on: 2023-07-08 02:35:59

Does Prunus virginiana and Prunus serotina hybridize? They both belong to the Bird Cherry subgenus and should be compatible right? If so is the result is native because the new species originated in Minnesota right?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-07-08 07:18:28

John, we don't have any information on naturally occurring Prunus hybrids.

Posted by: Joanne Boettcher - Mankato area
on: 2023-10-26 10:06:21

I see in your comments that purple leaf varieties are from cultivated varieties. We have many volunteer purple leaf chokecherries (and I haven't noticed any green leaf specimens) in the Mankato area. Are these all descended from cultivars or is there a wild purple leaf variety? Any info on the ability of these to support insects? I know Doug Tallamy has said that generally purple leaf cultivars are toxic to insects (specific case: diablo ninebark), but I also notice the leaves are very eaten by the end of the summer. Thank you!

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-10-26 10:15:18

Joanne, Minnesota Wildflowers has no information about purple-leaved chokecherries. Perhaps Ask a Master Gardener might help you find answers to your questions.

Posted by: kevin wagner - remer minnesota
on: 2023-10-30 11:08:57

my father now decesed,used to make wine out of the berries.He passed this knowedge down to me.It does make a very tasty wine and can be made very potent.I have been making this wine for a number of years.the longer it sets the more potent it gets,the only bad afects i have ever had was a bad hangover This wine making has been in my family sinse I can remmerber,i,m 67 years old and first drank this as a teen.Other members of my family have drank it for years. no illness ever(safe)

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