Western Chokecherry (Demissa)

The Western Chokecherry (Demissa) is generally described as a perennial tree or shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The Western Chokecherry (Demissa) has green foliage and inconspicuous white flowers, with an abuncance of conspicuous red fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until summer. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Western Chokecherry (Demissa) has a short life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Western Chokecherry (Demissa) will reach up to 20 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 20 feet.

The Western Chokecherry (Demissa) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have medium vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -38°F. has medium tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Ornamental: This plant is well adapted for use around homes, office buildings, and recreational areas. The form and dark green shiny foliage during spring and summer; the large number of showy flowers in the spring and the dark purple, grape-like clusters of fruit in the fall makes this a desirable species for beautification.

Crops: While not currently planted for this purpose, the fruit has a sweetish, astringent taste and is fit for human consumption. The fruit makes excellent jellies and jams and is occasionally used for wine.

Erosion control: It is a good erosion control plant because it can form thickets and spread by rhizomes.

Livestock: It is poor to fair forage for cattle, sheep, and goats and useless for horses; however, the foliage is consumed when the range is over utilized or in livestock concentration areas such as near water, along driveways, and near bedding grounds. One fourth of a pound of foliage is fatal to sheep and 1½ pounds will kill a 500 pound cow. This must be eaten at a single feeding and is usually lethal if very little other forage is consumed. The poisoning agent is hydrocyanic (prussic) acid. Cattle will usually not eat much chokecherry when a good supply of other forage species are available.

Recreation: This plant makes good screening in campgrounds and picnic areas.

Wildlife: Western chokecherry is excellent to good forage for deer and elk. The fruit is relished by bear, many species of songbirds, pheasants, and grouse.

General Characteristics

Prunus virginiana var. demissa (Nutt.) Torr., western chokecherry, is also called bitter cherry and black chokecherry. It is a shrub or small tree from 3 to 20 feet tall and occasionally as tall as 30 feet in favorable sites. The bark is smooth to scaly and dull red to gray. Leaves are ovate to broadly elliptical, rounded at the base or slightly heart shaped, 1½ to 3½ inches long, 1 to 2 inches wide, smooth or only slightly hairy, with finely toothed margins. Flowers are white, showy, and clustered in 2 to 5 inch long racemes at the ends of leafy shoots. Western chokecherry blooms from April to May. The fruit is round, ¼ to ½ inch in diameter, dark purple when ripe, and matures from September to October.

Required Growing Conditions

It is found mostly at elevations of 6,000 to 10,000 feet in snow drift areas and near springs or seeps or in stream bottoms where the average annual precipitation varies from 14 to 40 inches and the winters are cold. Soil texture varies from clays to sandy loams but this species prefers deep, fertile loam soils. It is frequently found on shallow soils or deep to moderately deep soils with more than 35 percent coarse fragments throughout the soil profile. It can be found as a small shrub on rocky talus slopes, shallow shale, and on very shallow rocky sites.

Western choke cherry is distributed throughout the western and southwestern United States. For a current distribution map, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Cultivation and Care

Sow seeds during the fall (or the spring with stratified seed) in drill rows 8 to 12 inches apart. Cover or drill ½ inch deep. Sow 25 seeds per foot of drill row. Field plant with 1 year old bareroot stock on deep, well-drained soils in sunny locations. Moist exposed mineral soil makes the best seedbed. Dormancy may be overcome by stratification of seed in moist sand or peat at low temperature for 90 to 160 days.

General Upkeep and Control

This species is better if not pruned or thinned. Irrigation will be needed on areas that receive less than 14 inches of precipitation annually. This species will withstand grazing and remains vigorous when 50 percent of the total annual growth is grazed. Care must be taken to prevent cattle from feeding on this plant once it has undergone stress due to drought or frost because of the toxic accumulation of hydrocyanic acid in the plant.

Pests and Potential Problems There are no serious insect pests, however western chokecherry is susceptible to black knot fungus, fireblight, and several other diseases.

Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin) No cultivars are currently recommended. Planting materials can be obtained from most commercial hardwood nurseries and seed sources in the west.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Tree, Shrub
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Short
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Thicket Forming
Drought Tolerance Medium
Shade Tolerance Intermediate
Height When Mature 20
Vegetative Spread Moderate
Flower Color White
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Summer
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -38
Soil Depth for Roots 24
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing Yes
Growth Requirements
pH Range 5.5–8 pH
Precipitation Range 16–16 inches/yr
Planting Density 700–2700 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 24
Minimum Frost-Free Days 90 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Low
CaCO3 Tolerance Medium
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Medium
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database, plants.usda.gov.
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA