Aronia melanocarpa, or simply “aronia,” is an attractive shrub that has recently been gaining more attention in the Midwest – its berries are very high in antioxidants thought to be beneficial for human health. Aronia is also known as chokeberry (berry, not cherry), descriptive of the astringent taninns present in the dark-blue fruit. When fully ripe, the berries, which look somewhat like blueberries or chokecherries, have a sugar content as high as table grapes and sweet cherries, but balanced by high acidity and complex flavors. Those who prefer dry wine may find the berries quite tasty; others may prefer to eat them frozen, cooked, or in jams, smoothies, or baked products.
Regardless of how they are consumed, the berries are known as “superfruit,” containing higher levels of antioxidants than other fruit commonly given that designation, such as elderberries, black currants, cranberries, and blueberries. A number of studies have found evidence that aronia berries may have protective benefits against various types of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, among other health issues. According to the USDA, 100 grams (about ½ cup) of the fresh berries also contains significant amounts of Vitamins C and K (35% and 17%, respectively, of Recommended Daily Allowances), and only 47 calories.
There are two species of Aronia (recently reclassified as Photinia by botanists), both native to Eastern North America. A. melanocarpa is a hardy variety with edible black fruit. The other species is A. arbutifolia, which is somewhat less hardy. It has red fruit which is somewhat less edible than the black fruit of A. melanocarpa, but can be used for jams and jellies. Both species are stunning landscape plants, three to eight feet high, with beautiful white clusters of flowers in the spring, glossy dark green foliage which turns brilliant shades of orange and red in the fall, and fruit that may stay on the plant through the winter.
Selection & Planting
Aronia are not particular about soil, and will tolerate partial shade, although they will fruit best in full sun. They are self-fruitful, so a single plant will bear fruit, 15 to 20 lbs. or more on a mature bush. Homeowners can select from seedling plants or from a number of cultivars, but Nero, Viking, and “Autumn Magic” may be most easily located. The former are common in commercial plantings as well as landscapes, and Autumn Magic was selected for its fruit size, more compact habit and more purplish fall color.