Prunus virginiana L.
General: erect to straggling shrub or small tree 1-4 m tall,
the bark purplish-gray, with small, raised, horizontal pores.
Leaves: alternate, the stalks 5-15 mm long, with 1-2
purplish-red glands near the blade base. Leaf blades elliptic
to ovate-oblong or oblong-obovate, finely sharp-toothed,
4-10 cm long, usually abruptly pointed at tips, bright green
and hairless on the upper surface, paler and hairless to
Flowers: numerous in terminal, congested, elongated
clusters, the stalks of rather uniform length, mostly 4-8 mm
long. Calyx hairless, the lobes spreading to curved back,
oval, finely glandular-rougened, 1-1.5 mm long. Petals
almost round, 4-6 mm long. Stamens about 25.
Flowering time: May-early July.
Fruits: drupes (cherries), red to purple or black, shiny,
ovoid, 8-11 mm long, sweet but astringent, in hanging
Grassland and sagebrush areas, often along watercourses,
upward in the lower mountains to ponderosa pine forest, in
most parts of MT. Also from B.C., eastward in Canada to
Newf., in the U.S to CA, NM, SD, ND, KS, MO, TN, NC.
Edible and Medicinal plant: see below.
(click on image for full size)
(click on images for full size)
The fruit of choke cherry is edible, raw or cooked. Very harsh, it is normally used in pies, jellies etc.
Dark and juicy, it is sometimes edible raw when fully mature. The seed can contain high concentrations
of hydrogen cyanide, a poison that gives almonds their characteristic flavor. This toxin is readily detected
by its bitter taste. It is usually present in too small a quantity to do any harm, any bitter seed or
fruit should not be eaten. In moderate to larger quantities hydrogen cyanide can cause respiratory failure
and even death. The bark and twigs can be used as a tea substitute.
The roots and the bark of chokecherry are a blood tonic, astringent, sedative, tonic and appetite stimulant,
and has agents that relieve disorders of the chest and lungs, as an expectorant. Chokecherry has been
used medicinally by many native peoples. The inner bark bark of the limbs, trunk and root are all very
useful and contain the same medicinal properties, although the root is always better. Wild cherry is an
herb which has been used for a very long time in herbalism and is mostly noted for its use in respiratory
problems. It has a soothing and sedative effect on the nervous system. It is in this way that it has its
influence on the heart. In digestive disorders its use is very noticeable. It helps the flow of gastric
juices. This is very helpful in conditions of dyspepsia. In respiratory affections wild cherry soothes
the cough and at the same time gives tone and strength to the system. Externally, the bark can be placed
in water for a few days in part sun and then used with advantage for pink eye and other infections of
New growth, wilted leaves, or plant parts that are injured by frost or drought are poisonous to cattle
and humans. The toxin, hydrocyanic acid, is formed in the animals stomach. Hydrocyanic acid quickly affects
animals and causes difficulty in breathing, slow pulse, dilated pupils, staggering and loss of consciousness
before death. Chokecherry toxicity is highest during the spring and summer; however, leaves are non-toxic
by the time fruits mature. Children have been poisoned and have died after ingesting large quantities
of berries, which contain the seeds.
The plant forms thickets by means of suckers from its extensive root system and can be planted for erosion
control. It is a pioneer species of abandoned fields and cut-over lands. A green dye can be obtained from
var. melanocarpa (A. Nels.) Sarg.:
Plants small to medium-sized shrubs, rarely over 4 (6) m. tall. Leaves rather thick in texture. Drupes deep bluish-purple to nearly black.
var. virginiana L.:
Plants large shrubs or small trees up to 15 m. tall. Leaves thin. Fruit crimson to deep red.
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