One afternoon a few years ago, while I was shopping at a favorite local nursery, this wonderful native shrub caught my attention. I was drawn to about 100 potted chokeberry plants grouped together. The foliage was just beginning to turn brilliant red and deep red purple for the fall, and clusters of red and black berries still held on.
I knew chokeberry to be a native plant, but wondered why I hadn’t seen it used in more landscape designs, and if the berries were edible or not. My friend who was working at the nursery told me chokeberry is used a lot in native restoration projects, and he thought the berries were edible but perhaps not palatable. I bought a few plants, did a little research to confirm the berries are indeed edible - in fact, they are considered a “superfood” with more antioxidants than blueberries - and brought them home for a taste test.
The chokeberries were received with varied levels of enthusiasm by my family. I found the taste to be somewhat unique. My wife and daughter did not care for them at all, but fortunately the birds didn’t appear to either. (I don’t mind sharing my bounty with nature, but the birds seemed to be getting their fill of my blueberries anyway.) The funny part was that my six year old son loved the berries! He began to devour the black ones (Aronia melanocarpa,) which are supposedly the less tasty variety, and in a few days when they were all gone he moved onto the reds (Aronia arbutifolia.)
The following year I purchased more of each variety, and my son continued to devour the berries, even more enthusiastically than the birds plucked my blueberries. I have developed a taste for them myself, and mix the chokeberries in with blueberries and serviceberries for the pickier eaters.
After a couple of years getting to know this beautiful shrub personally, I started to incorporate it into a lot of my designs. I am finding it is a perfect addition to the family of native plants I have developed a relationship with over the years, and a fantastic reminder to always keep my mind - and palate - open to “new” plant varieties.