For several years now, aronia cultivation has been successfully practiced in our country, particularly in colder regions. This small fruit plant, native to North America and known as Black chokeberry, is highly resistant to cold weather, in fact, it requires a cold climate to provide healthy and abundant growth. The interest in this plant is due to the beneficial properties of its berries. These berries are considered superfruits due to their richness in antioxidants, elements useful for preventing aging.
In this article, we’ll explore how to cultivate aronia, the botanical characteristics of the plant, and the extraordinary properties of the fruits.
In botany, Aronia refers to a genus of plants in the Rosaceae family, subfamily Maloideae.
The most widespread species is Aronia melanocarpa, also known as black aronia, owing to the distinctive color of its berries.
Other cultivated species include:
- Arbutifolia, which bears red berries;
- Prunifolia, with purple-colored fruits.
Among the various varieties cultivated in Italy, the most significant ones are:
- Viking, characterized by large and juicy berries;
- Autumn Magic, a splendid plant appreciated for its ornamental value, especially in the autumn months when it displays vibrant colors.
This plant originates from North America and was introduced to Europe in the early 1900s by the Russian botanist Ivan Vladimirovič Mičurin.
Where Aronia Thrives
Aronia cultivation continues to be practiced in Russia and other Eastern European countries. Poland holds the position of the largest producer, attributed to the plant’s affinity for cold climates, where other fruit tree species face challenges. In Italy, the Friuli region is at the forefront of advanced cultivation experiments.
Recognizing Black Chokeberry
In this discussion, we focus on Aronia melanocarpa. It is easy to recognize due to the following features:
- It’s a small shrub with a naturally bushy form that doesn’t exceed 2 meters in height.
- The tree is deciduous, meaning it loses its leaves in winter.
- The shrub consists of a collection of erect, slightly twisted, gray-brown stems with a small diameter.
- In spring, the leaves are light green, finely serrated at the edges, and oval-shaped. They are not hairy but are covered in numerous glands containing essential oil. In autumn, the leaves turn red due to the synthesis of the plant’s abundant polyphenols.
- Flowering occurs in spring. The flowers are grouped in corymb inflorescences, formed by 25-30 hermaphroditic flowers with 5 white petals and prominent pink anthers.
- Pollination is carried out by bees and other beneficial insects.
- Fruits begin to form in summer and are small black-blue berries.
Let’s delve a bit deeper into identifying aronia berries. They are clustered in pendulous bunches and ripen in autumn. They contain up to 5 small seeds inside. They have a fairly tart taste, which sweetens with the onset of cold weather. It’s best not to harvest them immediately but wait for them to wither as the season progresses. In appearance, aronia melanocarpa berries are quite similar to those of the more Mediterranean myrtle.
Cultivating Black Chokeberry
When it comes to cultivating aronia, the plant isn’t very demanding but requires a cold and dry climate. Considering that it can be grown in Scandinavia, it’s perfect for cultivation in mountainous or hilly areas that are drier and experience low winter temperatures. Based on this rationale, it’s not advisable to cultivate aronia in warm and humid climates, even during winter. Coastal and plain areas should be avoided. The plant can be placed in both full sun and partial shade.
The hardiness of the aronia plant is demonstrated by its tolerance to a wide range of soils. Ideally, it prefers deep soil of medium texture, with excellent drainage and slightly acidic pH. However, aronia can also tolerate heavier, sandy, saline soils, or those with an alkaline pH.
Aronia is easily propagated by cuttings. This propagation method is preferred as the plants start producing after their third year. Starting directly from seeds significantly delays the time to see the first fruits. Planting can be done in two distinct periods: autumn or late winter. In general, you just need to follow the guidelines already mentioned for planting a fruit tree. Aronia is a plant with a strong tendency to sucker, so its bushy growth habit must be considered when determining the planting distance. The small shrubs don’t occupy much space but tend to spread out. We recommend keeping the plants 2 meters apart in rows and 3 meters between rows. A closer spacing is possible, but there’s a chance that a single hedge may form.
In aronia cultivation, irrigation must be carefully considered. The plant doesn’t tolerate prolonged periods of drought, which unfortunately are quite common in our country. You should therefore establish a drip irrigation system that operates regularly during dry periods when there is no natural precipitation. For a small number of plants, you can choose to water by hand.
Fertilization and Soil Management
Lush growth of aronia benefits from fertile soil, so it’s advisable to fertilize the plant periodically. You can use light organic fertilizers, such as home compost and worm humus. These can be incorporated into the soil with a light turning, just before the vegetative restart, typically in late February. For soil management, it’s recommended not to engage in continuous cultivation but to maintain soil cover.
Another important operation in aronia cultivation is pruning. This should aim to thin out the canopy, eliminating interweaving branches. Numerous suckers and some shoots, as mentioned earlier, should also be removed. The shrub produces on year-old branches, so pruning cuts can be made on branches that have already produced to stimulate new growth. Naturally, dry or damaged branches should also be removed. The best time to prune aronia coincides with the beginning of vegetative dormancy, typically late autumn to early winter.
Diseases and Pests
Aronia is a species that has proven to be resistant to the most common diseases and pests of fruit trees. Among diseases, there is a certain susceptibility to fire blight. As for pests, the most formidable for this plant is the vine weevil.
Properties of Aronia Berries
Interest in cultivation has increased in recent years, primarily due to the excellent properties of aronia berries. These fruits have an extremely high concentration of antioxidants, surpassing even those of blueberries, currants, and plums. In particular, the fruit contains polyphenols: tannins and flavonoids, such as anthocyanins. The anthocyanin content in 100 grams of fresh fruit is 1,480 mg, while the proanthocyanin concentration is 664 mg. The fruits are also rich in vitamins (A, C, E, B group, K, P, and PP) and minerals (especially iron). They also contain chlorogenic acid, which is useful for preventing urinary tract infections. The polyphenols present in high concentration in the berries confer the following beneficial properties:
- Free radical scavenging
- Anti-cancer activity
- Anti-atherogenic properties for preventing arteriosclerosis and related diseases such as stroke, thrombosis, and cardiovascular issues
- Anti-inflammatory action
- Antibacterial and antiviral effects
- Vasoprotective activity and regulation of vascular permeability
All these properties improve health conditions in numerous age-related ailments. For instance, they reduce inflammatory processes, enhance blood vessel resilience, and have positive effects on ischemia and diabetes, among other things. If you’re unable to find fresh berries and can’t cultivate the plant in your garden, you can find numerous products based on this fruit. This way, you can still enjoy its fantastic properties.
Black Chokeberries Precautions
Despite the benefits, excessive consumption of aronia berries comes with precautions. Specifically, it is not recommended for those with gastritis or ulcers or for individuals undergoing anticoagulant treatments.
Aronia berries are not typically consumed fresh due to their tart taste. However, they can be dried and consumed in that state to be more palatable. More commonly, they are transformed into delicious jams, juices, syrups, and liquors. In the confectionery industry, they are used for natural coloring.