Seed Starting, Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)

Potted 5 Chokseeds in one of the 10″ pots released by planting herbs this week. Chokecherry seeds are not easy like bean plants, they do not come up in a few days!  Chokecherry seeds require several months of cold stratification,  which I have already provided in the refrigerator.   How long they will take to sprout varies, and can take up to 18 months.

My general practice with slow germinators like Chokecherry is to plant them in a pot outside with a perennial.  When they come up, they are a pleasant surprise, and due to their location, I know they were planted by me.  They are easy to pot up or transplant once the have sprouted.  Even if I “forgot” I planted them, once they get a few leaves it is pretty clear who they are.  Labels are great, of course…

In this case, I think they will sprout this year.  I have overseeded with Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum) which will ensure a good moist environment for the Chokecherry and keep the pot and soil in food production.

Chokecherry is native to the U.S., across the northern part, but is also native to the western mountains where I live.  Although native to my county, I have not seen one and would like to reestablish them after 11 years of drought.  Starting with my five acres!

Chokecherry is sour for the most part, but they are fairly variable.  If I found a sweeter one, I would probably take cuttings and breed sweet back into the native population.

Let it get fully ripe before eating.  Even better, dry the ripe fruit into “raisins” which are delicious without adding masses of sugar.  If wildlife doesn’t get them all, they will “raisin up” on the tree and can be a good winter food source.   Northern tribes of First Americans used Chokecherry in their pemmican, and it was a major part of their diet.

Chokecherries make good pies, jams, and syrups, all of which require substantial sugar.  It is a good candidate for steam juicing, and the remnants make a yummy addition to home baked bread.

Now that I am making fruit wines, I look forward to making Chokecherry Wine.

Some people plant Chokecherry solely as a wildlife food, and it is a good choice.  Over 40 species of birds eat the cherries, even in preference to orchard fruits.  Chickens, too, love them, and they make a good addition to the run, chickens will eat the sprouts, keeping it in bounds. Bear and deer feast on them, as do all smaller mammals.  It is a butterfly host plant to several butterfly species and the masses of flowers draw the rest.  Bees and other pollinators show up in droves.

In spring, expect beautiful panicles of white flowers that turn into panicles of half inch fruits.  They ripen to almost black and are rich in antioxidant pigment anthocyanins, richer than blueberries.  Chokeberries are high in Vitamin K as well, vital to bloodclotting.

When I lived in Maple Valley WA, I could see Chokecherries blooming in the spring along the river.  I went back in and collected ripe fruit later in the year, and baked them into a brown betty.  Yum.

It even has pretty yellow-orange-red autumn foliage.  The Chokecherry I planted uphill 2 years ago was a gorgeous orange last fall.

The fruit is small, about a half inch in diamer, but are produced in masses, very reliably.  These guys sucker out and make large patches, so do not plant them where you need a lot of control.

Because Chokecherry is a phenomenal wildlife food, food for me, and a powerful medicinal, I count it as a great addition to my circular economy and Food Forest.  I will plant them out during the first Monsoon Season after they sprout, likely next year.

Chokecherry is one of my hide in plain sight foods.  Few people recognize it as food and fewer will get past its unripe taste… it isn’t called Chokecherry without reason.  Properly prepared, however, it is delicious.



About rebeccatreeseed

I am a naturalist raised by naturalists. Treeseed is my earned name, while Rebecca is my birth name. I am of Northern European descent, with a quarter Irish.quarter thrown in. I suspect I was a product of northern invaders into Ireland into Ireland. but hard to say since DNA disproved the family story about Apache blood! I have found some odd ancestors to replace them. Last year I bought 5 acres of pinyon-juniper forest on the side of a mountain in Santa Fe County, New Mexico. I am fulfilling a lifetime dream of a cabin in the mountains and a food forest that will feed me and local wildlife. I want to share this new phase of my life with others that might be interested.
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