May Species of the Month
May 15, 2020
Species of the Month is a botanical column written by Prospect Park Alliance Natural Resources Crew Foreperson, A.J. Logan. Learn more about how Prospect Park Alliance is Sustaining the Environment.
This month we're highlighting an under-appreciated native woodland shrub:
Aronia melanocarpa, commonly known as chokeberry
Chokeberry (not to be confused with chokecherry, which is a totally different species) is an understory and woodland edge multi-stemmed shrub that can grow to about 6 feet tall, and 6 feet wide, but usually gets to about half that size. It provides interest for humans, birds, insects and small mammals. Its leaves emerge light green with a tinge of red around the edges, then develop into a darker glossy green by summer. It has showy white flowers in spring, dark clusters of berries in summer, and colorful foliage (purplish-red, red, yellow or orange) in the autumn.
The chokeberry blooms in May, and you'll see the delicate five-petalled white flowers with pink anthers (the part of the stamen that contains the pollen) on the unpollinated flowers. The pollinated flowers have more faded looking anthers. Many different insects will pollinate the flowers: bumblebees, multiple fly species, wasps, and several solitary bee species.
The pollinated flowers will develop deep blue-to black berries which are extremely high in the phytonutrients and antioxidants found in all berries. Unfortunately for humans, these don't have a great flavor (tart, astringent) which is where the name 'chokeberry' supposedly comes from. Critters that like the berries are black-capped chickadees, robins, cedar waxwings, rabbits and white-footed mice, among others. Some birds will only eat them as a last resort, due to the astringent taste.
Chokeberry bushes can be found throughout the Prospect Park woodlands: on Lookout Hill, in the Vale of Cashmere, the Sugar Bowl, the Midwood, among other places. If you cannot find any, fear not: there is no shortage of other blooming things to appreciate in the park at this time!
c. A.J. Logan