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Ode to the Common Chokecherry

Prunus Virginiana, better known as “Common Chokecherry”, is one of the most colorful, fruitful, and versatile plants in the Rocky Mountains. It also just happens to be one of our favorites. No doubt “Common” refers to its abundance, not its quality, for chokecherries are surely a gift from the Gods.

Chokecherry fruit

Chokecherry is an extremely hardy native shrub, suckering over time to create a dense thicket — priceless if you have room for it. We use it in natural landscapes, and where attracting wildlife — especially birds! — is desirable. Over time it can grow 20 feet tall.

This tough, multi-stemmed shrub has colorful displays for all seasons. Abundant, fragrant white blossoms explode in spring, offering nectar to birds, butterflies and bees. In summer clusters of bitter (ergo “choke”) green berries, that gradually ripen to red and black, create droopy branches until harvested by hungry bears, birds and humans, to name a few. Bears devour these nourishing fruits in anticipation of winter hibernation. Birds snap them up like M & Ms, while we seize them by bucketfuls in anticipation of warm syrup on pancakes, pungent jelly, wine, meat sauce, and even frozen daiquiris! Fall is spectacular with foliage turning various hues of orange, yellow and red, and in winter dormancy chokecherry bark is an appealing reddish-brown.

Not surprising, American Indians have long known a thing or two about the nutritional and medicinal value of chokecherry. They regularly dried the fruit for flat cakes and stews, or ground and combined it with buffalo meat and fat to make pemmican. Tea made from chokecherry bark treated sore throat and diarrhea — as documented by Meriwether Lewis in 1805 on the Missouri. (Lewis and Clark also sought out chokecherry bark for sturdy axe handles.) Enough said about this amazing plant, but we encourage you to take a close-up look yourself as so often we fail to see what’s in our proverbial backyard.

Chokecherry blooms

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