The Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana) is a species of bird cherry (Prunus subgenus Padus) native to North America, where it is found almost throughout the continent except for the deep south and the far north.
It is a suckering shrub or small tree growing to 5 m tall. The leaves are oval, 3-10 cm long, with a coarsely serrated margin. The flowers are produced in racemes of 15-30 in late spring (well after leaf emergence). The fruit are about 1 cm diameter, range in color from bright red to black, with a very astringent, sour taste. The very ripe berries are dark in color and less astringent than the red berries
Chokecherries are very high in antioxidant pigment compounds, like anthocyanins. They share this property with chokeberries, further contributing to confusion.
Prunus virginiana is sometimes divided into two varieties, P. virginiana var. virginiana (the eastern chokecherry), and P. virginiana var. demissa (the western chokecherry).
The wild Chokecherry is often considered a pest, as it is a host for the tent caterpillar, a threat to other fruit plants. However, there are more appreciated cultivars of the chokecherry, such as 'Goertz', which has a non-astringent, and therefore palatable, fruit. Research is being done at the University of Saskatchewan to find and create new cultivars to increase production and processing.
Chokecherry is closely related to the Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) of eastern North America; it is most readily distinguished from that by its smaller size (Black Cherry can reach 30 m tall), smaller leaves, and sometimes red ripe fruit. The Chokecherry leaf has a finely serrated margin and is dark green above with a paler underside, while the Black Cherry leaf has numerous blunt edges along its margin and is dark green and smooth.
The name chokecherry has also been used (as 'Amur Chokecherry') for the related Manchurian Cherry or Amur Cherry (Prunus maackii).
The bark of chokecherry root was once made into an asperous-tasting concoction used to ward off or treat colds, fever and stomach maladies by native Americans The chokecherry fruit can be used to make a tasty jam, jelly, or syrup, but the bitter nature of the fruit means you need a lot of sugar to sweeten the preserves.
Chokecherry is toxic to horses, especially after the leaves have wilted (such as after a frost or after branches have been broken) because wilting releases cyanide and makes the plant sweet. About 5-10 kg of foliage can be fatal. Symptoms of a horse that has been poisoned include heavy breathing, agitation, and weakness. The leaves of the chokecherry serve as food for caterpillars of various Lepidoptera. See List of Lepidoptera which feed on Prunus.