A major trend in gardening today is towards more natural gardens, and to using native plants in the garden. Concerns about the impact on the local environment from the escape of some non-native species, and a desire to have gardens that feel more like our rapidly-vanishing natural surroundings have driven this trend. We can also walk a ‘middle-way’, and use attractive native plants in any garden, and the appreciation of their quieter beauty has also grown. If you already have a natural area on your property you have a great start, and you can enhance the beauty and diversity of that space by planting different native plants that may not be growing there already. Some of our native shrubs are already attractive enough to hold their heads high in our gardens, and when special forms are carefully selected, they can make a big contribution to every kind of garden. You may want to choose a plant that is natural to North America, or you may simply want to grow attractive shrubs in your garden. In either case, the Autumn Magic Black Chokeberry satisfies all these impulses and needs. Carefully selected by plant experts for its excellent fall colors, this shrub is valuable everywhere – and edible too.
The Autumn Magic Black Chokeberry grows into a rounded shrub with an open form, reaching 3 to 6 feet tall, and spreading just a little wider. It has many upright stems rising from the base, creating a full plant with a tidy look. The young stems are smooth and reddish brown, turning purple-brown as they mature. Older stems and trunks are dark brown, and they remain smooth, without deep fissures or cracks. The oval leaves have a short, pointed end, and fine serrations along the edges. They are glossy, 1 to 3 inches long and a bright green color. In fall this tree becomes a blazing red beacon, because the leaves turn excellent shades of bold, vibrant red and rich, deep purples. The outstanding fall colors were the main reason this variety of chokeberry was selected and preserved.
Between June and August, the ends of the branches of the Autumn Magic Black Chokeberry carry clusters of 5 to 10 white flowers, each about ½ inch across. With their five petals held out flat around a center of spikey stamens, they have a quiet beauty, and a plant in full bloom is an attractive feature in any bed. Pollinating insects visit the flowers for pollen and nectar. By late summer and into the fall those flowers have turned into dark, glossy, purplish-black berries the size of blueberries. On this variety they are exceptionally large and abundant. A single bush is self-pollinating and carries a large crop. The berries are a valuable winter food for native birds, but they are also edible and useful in the kitchen. They are semi-sweet but sour and astringent when fresh, but once cooked into jellies, jams, syrups, teas and even wine, they are tasty and enjoyable. Rich in antioxidants, numerous phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals, this bush is a valuable addition to any food-producing garden. Rich in pectin, the berries are very easy to turn into jelly, alone or mixed with other fruits.
The Autumn Magic Black Chokeberry grows easily in full sun or partial shade, such as along the margins of a woodlot, or in clearings. It grows in most soils, including wet ones, and it thrives along the edges of streams and lakes, as well as in low-lying, boggy areas. With its strong roots and multiple branches, it is a great choice for banks and slopes, giving good erosion control and preventing banks from collapsing. It grows at a moderate pace, and although it does sucker from the base a little, it is not invasive. Regular pruning is not needed, although after a few years you can remove a few of the oldest branches at the base in spring to stimulate the development of new young stems.
The black chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa, is one of three chokeberries found in North America. The others have red or purple berries. It grows wild in woods and swampy areas from Newfoundland and Ontario all the way south to Georgia. Plants from seed are variable in size and fall color, and the variety ‘Autumn Magic’ began its life as a seedling. Some plants were grown from seed at Hadlow College a horticultural training center in the UK, and among them was one with exceptional fall colors and large berries. It was sent to the Botanic Gardens of the University of British Columbia for assessment, and they released it to nurseries in 1994 under their Garden Plant Introduction Scheme. Since then it has become the ‘go-to’ variety of black chokeberry, and an outstanding plant for gardens, both cultivated and wild. If you want a handsome food plant that is ornamental and easy to grow, order now, because our stock will not last long.