Chokecherry trees are native to North America and can be found from Canada to Texas. There are several varieties, but all share some common traits. The berries are often harvested and made into jelly or used with other berries in pies. These are the only edible portions of the tree for humans. This tree actually contains cyanide and can cause injury or death if the leaves, twigs or seeds are ingested. This plant grows as a small tree or large shrub and is frequently used as a wind break or for wildlife habitats.
Chokecherry trees prefer well-drained soil, though they will grow in rocky soil as well. They do not tolerate soils with a high concentration of alkali and prefer peat like soils. These trees also prefer an open area with full sun for best growth. The seeds require cold to germinate and should be planted in the fall. Plants the seeds to a depth of no more than three inches. Recover with soil and water the area thoroughly. New sprouts should appear in the spring. The seeds are not a favorite of squirrels so the planted seeds should be safe from being eaten.
Chokecherry trees require at least 15 inches of water each year. If rain does not provide this moisture, the tree will need to be watered regularly. Once growing, the tree will create an extensive root system and self-propagate. Birds also eat the berries and may spread the seeds to other locations. Once dropped seeds often sprout new growth in the spring. It may be necessary to check the area and remove any seedlings growing in undesirable locations. Additional trees may sprout from the roots of an established tree. If a windbreak is desired plant several trees about two feet apart. They will fill in as they grow and propagate new trees. This tree does not require any pruning.
White blooms will appear in the spring and small red cherries will be produced in the fall. These berries darken when they are ripe. The berries can be harvested once they are ripe and eaten raw or cooked to make jelly and other foods. Each cherry contains a seed that should not be eaten as these seeds contain cyanide and can be deadly to humans.
Some animals such as deer will eat the twigs and bark during the winter months, but they are not attracted to this tree and will not eat it if other food is available. Song birds and game birds eat the seeds and spread the seeds for new growth. Other animals do not seem to eat the bark, leaves or twigs.
Chokecherry trees are an excellent choice for attracting small animals and birds to the yard. These small animals will feed on the berries in the fall and through the winter. The cherries are also used to make syrup, wine and jellies. Caution should be used when small children are in the area to ensure they do not accidentally eat one of the seeds.