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Prunus x maackii: Amur Chokecherry Tree

Emily Dusek, UWRF

With a peeling, golden-hued bark reminiscent of the Betulaceae (birch) family, along with its dainty white blossoms dangling on two to three inch racemes from early to mid-May, it is clear the Gold Rush Amur Chokecherry Tree is a beautiful enhancement to any landscape!

The Amur Chokecherry (actually a member of the Rosaceae or rose family) calls the eastern side of the world home--specifically, Russia, Korea and Manchuria. It was brought to the United States in 1878 to the Arnold Arboretum as a gift from the Botanic Garden in St. Petersburg, Russia. Despite it's being native to the harsh taiga of Eurasia, this tree is still considered a desirable choice from zones 3a to 7. Though it's susceptibility to cherry pests (which include borers, scale, aphids, tent caterpillars, canker and leaf spot) increases in warmer climates, the Amur Chokecherry is recommended for cool northern climates where the majority of these problems are nonexistent for this species. It's a relatively trouble-free tree for the harsher climates of the world.

The Amur Chokecherry is tolerant of full/part sun and/or part shade in acidic, humus-rich, well-drained soils. While it has a tolerance for drought, it prefers to be kept moist (but not wet) at all times. On newly propagated trees, there is an occasional onion skin effect where the bark peels off on the young branches; exposing an array of colors that vary between yellow-brown, to orange-brown, to a copper color with a very glossy effect!

During the second or third year, the glabrous stems will start to develop lenticels. These branches will develop into a dense, round or broad-oval formation, spreading out to 25-35 feet in width. The Amur Chokecherry also has a tendency to grow with several trunks. Depending on what the owner desires, this tree may be grown in either clump form or as a single specimen (if trimmed to do so)! The maximum height ranges from 30' to 45.' The bark is similar to the mature branches in regards to how the colors vary from a bright, highly glossy copper to gold and amber. The lenticels are also prominent on the bark, forming long, horizontal, decorations across the thin smooth bark. As it ages, the bark will start to exfoliate in a manner similar to that of a river birch (Betula nigra).
With such ornamental bark, one might expect it to be the only positive feature of the Amur Chokecherry--but that is hardly the case! In early to mid-May, there is a lovely display of white flowers that consist of 5 petals, 3/8" in diameter. They occur in 2 to 3" long racemes that have about 20 to 30 flowers on them. The fruit then develops numerous small red drupes that are ¼" in diameter, and will then mature to black as they ripen. These fruits can be used to make jams, jellies, juice, or just left on the tree, luring birds near and far.

The dense, dark green summer foliage of the Amur Chokecherry contrasts nicely with the shiny bark. Come fall, the Amur Chokecherry is not the most exciting of specimens due to a lack of fall foliage interest, when the leaf color ranges from a drab yellow-green to an even drabber green. But when this uninteresting foliage is combined with such splendid bark and sweet little is an easily overlooked shortcoming.
The Amur Chokecherry is radiant in the winter season when its bark presents a stark contrast to the snow. Though this type of tree has multiple uses, it is most commonly used as an easily viewed specimen tree, small shade tree, or in a grouping because of its winter interest. Since this tree has such a cold tolerance, it may also be used as a container patio tree, or even as a replacement or complement to the dogwoods and evergreens so common in Christmas winter planters. Though the Amur Chokecherry is only known to be moderately tolerant of ozone pollution, it has been recommended by some sources for use as a buffer strip around parking lots and even for median strip plantings along highways!

If cold tolerance and pest resistance were the Amur Chokecherry's only attributes, it would still be considered a valuable tree. But when combined with its superior golden peeling bark and flowers, this tree becomes an ideal ornamental tree that is as close to being a 'tree for all seasons' as is possible!

The author, Emily Dusek, graduated with an A.S in Horticulture from Century College in 2009. She is currently attending University of Wisconsin-River Falls to parlay her A.S. into a Bachelor's of Science. She has also received invaluable hands-on lessons working at Farrill's Sunrise Nursery in Hudson, Wisconsin. Emily first got into horticulture as just a baby; she has been told her first birthday present was a mini wheelbarrow and watering can!

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