Chokecherry Vs Buckthorn – What’s The Difference?
In the world of flora, it’s not rare that two plants are so similar to each other that it can be really difficult to distinguish them at a casual glance.
This is especially the case if they belong to the same order and grow in similar conditions and areas.
However, no matter how they may look like each other, they’re often different in many other aspects.
This may include how they’re used and grown, or even how harmful they are to humans.
A typical case of two plants that people often have a hard time differentiating between is chokecherry and buckthorn.
Both plants belong to the Rosales order and have a very similar structure, making them hard to tell apart if you’re looking from afar.
Nevertheless, a close inspection reveals some significant differences between the two.
Below, I’ll compare chokecherry and buckthorn and explain how they differ.
Native to North America, chokecherry was historically used by the Native Americans both as food and for medicinal purposes.
However, it’s important to note that its seeds and leaves are poisonous.
Growing in a form of deciduous shrubs or small trees, chokecherry can reach 20 feet in height.
It produces hanging spikes of white flowers, with a fairly unpleasant scent.
The thin brown branches also emit a disagreeable odor and have a bitter taste. The fruits of chokecherry are drupes and can vary in color from red to black.
Typically, they’re not eaten raw, unless fully mature.
Still, they’re often used to make jams and syrups and used as ingredients in pies.
Plus, they’re often dried and eaten that way without any additional preparation. Barks and twigs can be used to make tea.
Chokecherry is rather adaptable and can grow in most conditions, but prefers moist soils and plenty of sunlight.
Buckthorn is native to temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere, primarily Eurasia, and was brought from Europe to Northern America mainly as a hedging material.
It can grow as a shrub or a small tree and reaches up to 12 feet in height. It features a dark bark and dark green, commonly oval, leaves.
Buckthorn produces clusters of small black fruits, around 1/4 of an inch big.
Fruits or berries are inedible and can have purgative effects, therefore, they should not be consumed.
This plant is known as very invasive and often overpowers the native flora for moisture, light, and nutrients, leading to the degradation of wildlife habitat.
Buckthorn can often be a real nuisance and forms thick walls of greenery in forests and roadsides, but also in yards and parks.
Still, these properties make it useful as an ornamental hedge as long as it’s kept under control.
Chokecherry Vs Buckthorn – What’s The Difference?
|Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) by Ryan Hodnett (CC BY-SA 4.0)||Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) by Peter O’Connor (CC BY-SA 2.0)|
Although they look fairly similar at first sight, chokecherry and buckthorn, as mentioned above, have some important differences.
Here’s a brief overview of the main distinctions between the two.
The difference in size is the first thing you may notice when it comes to the appearance of these two plants.
Choke cherry grows much larger and features longer branches and thicker trunks as opposed to rather small and spindly buckthorn with many small and thin branches growing out of the main trunk.
Fruits and Leaves
The leaves of chokecherry feature a brighter shade of green, while the berries are red or black and fairly large.
The buckthorn leaves are dark green and it produces smaller fruits, typically dark in color, often black.
Another difference is that chokecherry fruits are drupes, meaning that they have only a single seed, while buckthorn berries have multiple seeds in the center.
Buckthorn typically produces green-yellow, four-petaled flowers, growing in clusters of three.
Chokecherry flowers are similar in size, but white in color and five-petaled, growing in round shape and in clusters of five.
Buckthorn usually flowers during early summer, in late May and June, while chokecherry has a longer period of producing flowers, from April to July.
One of the reasons chokecherry is favored for ornamental purposes is the much more accentuated, beautiful white bloom.
The bark of buckthorn, as mentioned above, is very toxic and even more unwelcoming due to the thorns at the end of each stem.
However, despite toxicity, it has other uses thanks to its sturdiness.
As the plant grows older, the buckthorn bark will turn brown and start to peel off.
Chokecherry bark is more varied and can feature different colors, including reddish, brownish, and even some shades of grey.
It’s fairly smooth, at least compared to buckthorn. As the plant ages, the bark will slowly turn black.
The fruits of buckthorn are not fit for human consumption, while chokecherry berries are edible and often used in pies, jams, and syrups.
However, raw chokecherry berry, while nonpoisonous, is rather bitter and therefore rarely eaten in that form.
In addition, buckthorn bark and fruits have a laxative effect, and, while they were historically used for medical purposes, today that is rarely the case.
While both plants have found use as a hedge, chokecherry is much more commonly used for these purposes as it’s easier to grow and maintain.
Even though both chokecherry and buckthorn have been used for various purposes throughout history, today, their main use is in landscaping.
Each has some qualities that make it a rather suitable plant if you’re looking to create a hedge and add some privacy to your yard.
Buckthorn will grow very fast and will require minimal maintenance. However, it may jeopardize other plants in its surrounding.
This is why some experts advise against growing it on your property.
Chokecherry, on the other hand, is more visually appealing, smells better, and produces edible fruits.
The fact that one of these plants, chokecherry, produces fruits that are suitable for human consumption, while the other one, buckthorn, yields toxic berries, is the main reason why you should learn to tell the difference between the two.
They look very similar and the untrained eye can easily make a mistake, which can lead to serious health risks.