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Nice or nuisance?

This November will mark 28 years since I first set foot on the property I call DUCK!

Whether in the grass or on the lake or in the woods (with parts there I have yet to explore), I continue to make new discoveries. That surprises me. Since it’s hardly that large an area, one might think I’d be quite familiar with most (at least) by now. One might . . . but no.

One of my nicest surprises is lovely flowers that appear on bushes that, quite honestly, don’t belong. Not everything gets immaculately trimmed (I encourage wild to a certain degree) so any exploratory walk might well produce some new delight. In this case, it looks like I’ve simply been remiss in my exploring for bushes don’t pop up that quickly.

Pictures of course . . . then the wildflower book for identification . . . and, lastly, the internet to expand my knowledge a bit further.

Perhaps the chokecherry is a good one to preserve for the USDA calls it a “very important commercial fruit tree.” That’s a surprise for, to look at it, it’s just a rambling (OK: out of control) big bush. Usually growing from 3 to 20 feet, its crown can span from 10 to 20 feet when mature. This large shrub or small tree is native, perennial, deciduous and can reproduce by seed or the dreaded rhizome. In this case, those can spread up to thirty-five feet away. I’ll never cut them all!

The leaves are a glossy dark green above, lighter underneath. They’re alternate and simple, broadly elliptical, up to four inches long, half that wide with teeth so closely-spaced they form a serrated edge. The leaves turn yellow in the fall. Starting at a gray or reddish brown, the bark darkens as it ages.

Flowers should be appearing now, April to July, and are arranged in cylindrical racemes 3 to 6 inches long. I found it fascinating to learn they always sprout on the current year’s leafy twig growth. Each flower is perfect, less than half an inch in diameter with five white petals. Wikipedia begs to differ saying they appear well after the leaf emerges while the USDA says the flowers start before the leaves are fully developed. The government calls the flowers aromatic while Wikipedia claims they “produce a strong heady aroma which some people find to be unpleasantly smelly, while others perceive them to have an aphrodisiac like effect.” I don’t know about the aphrodisiac but I found the scent quite pleasant.

England has been cultivating this bush as an ornamental since it was first imported in 1629. It’s known its cherries were being harvested in Eurasia by 4,000 to 5,000 BC. It was brought to America in 1724 as a valued orchard crop. Today it is used mostly as a food product making fine preserves, juice, jelly and syrup. All would be too bitter without the addition of sugar. Beware! for eating the seeds can lead to illness and even death. Wild animals who distribute the enjoyable fruit include birds, rabbits, hares, rodents and bears.

Many Native American tribes consider it the most important fruit in their diet with the chokecherries added to pemmican, a staple. A concoction from the bark is used to ward off or treat colds, fever and stomach maladies. The inner bark could be added to their smoking mixtures, known as kinnikinnick, guaranteed to improve the flavor of the bearberry leaf. Hardly surprising.

The wild chokecherry can also be considered a pest (with those rhizomes, I’m hardly surprised!) for it’s host to the tent caterpillar which also threatens other fruit trees. Sadly, tent caterpillars don’t need the chokecherry to thrive. They’re even more common here than the chokecherry.

Obviously I lost the notes which should have gone into my Day-Timer to remind me to venture out in the fall (after Alaska as it were) to look for the red berries (I have no photos) and the pretty (one hopes) yellow leaves.

It’s positively on my list for this fall.

Susan Crossett has lived in Arkwright for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” following in 2014. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.

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