Friday, March 4, 2011

What is aronia?

    Aronia (pronounced "ar-ROH-nee-uh") is one of the common names used for Aronia melanocarpa.  It is a perennial, deciduous, self-supporting shrub.  Unlike grape vines, aronia does not need trellising.  The growth habit of Aronia melanocarpa plants varies greatly.  The range of variability extends from ground cover types to tall and leggy shrubs up to 20 feet tall and everything in-between.  They also vary considerably in fruit size, color, ripening date, and flavor.

Dr. Everhart is out standing in the field of aronia 

    The species Aronia melanocarpa is native to the northeastern quarter of the United States and southeastern Canada.  Its native range extends west to Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, and Arkansas.  It is on state endangered species lists in Iowa and Missouri.  It grows wild in only a small area in one county in Iowa.  In fact, the species may be extinct in Iowa. The same is true in Missouri and Arkansas.  It is more common in Wisconsin, especially in the northeastern half of the state.  

     Aronia melanocarpa is not native to Europe but aronia cultivars have been grown there for several decades. It has become naturalized in areas of Poland where it has escaped from cultivation.  About 50 percent of the world production of aronia berries is currently grown in Poland.

     Genetic testing of the popular aronia cultivars ‘Viking’ and ‘Nero’ have been conducted by Dr. Mark Brand at the University of Connecticut.  These tests indicate that ‘Viking’ and ‘Nero’ are probably hybrids between Aronia melanocarpa and Sorbus aucuparia (mountain ash).  (Click here for more information.)  

    Commercial aronia berry production in North America is in its infancy.  Demand for aronia berries currently exceeds production.  Many new aronia plantations are being planted in the Midwest.

    In cultivation, aronia cultivars are used as a fruit crop in commercial or home garden plantings, in conservation and wildlife plantings, and as an ornamental landscape plant.  The plants have all-season interest in the landscape.  This includes large clusters of white with a slight pink tinge, shiny green leaves during the growing season, colorful red to orange or yellow fall foliage color, and large clusters of purple-black pea-sized fruit that usually persists well into the winter months. 

    Aronia melanocarpa and its cultivars are cold hardy to at least USDA Hardiness Zone 3 (-40 degrees Fahrenheit) and south to the northern part of USDA Zone 7.  Further south it does not get enough hours of chilling required (often referred to as chill factor) needed to satisfy its need for a cold, long winter.

     The cold tolerant blooms of aronia open in late spring avoiding most frosts.  The plants grow well on various soil types from boggy soils that are poorly drained to well-drained sites.  The optimum pH for growth and fruit production is slightly acid (6.0 to 6.5) but aronia will tolerate a wider pH range (5.0 to 8.5).

    Click here for links to more information about aronia as well as links to horticulture and gardening resources.  Also, if you like this blog and you like our website, then please tell your friends, family members, or anyone who might be interested in aronia, gardening, or horticulture.

      I hope you enjoyed reading this post.  It would be very helpful if you would please post a comment in the box below.  To learn more about aronia, visit our website Everhart Horticulture Consulting.

      Thank you,
      Dr. Eldon Everhart


  1. Aronia berry is very high in antioxidants. To find out more about its nutritional properties, visit

  2. Recently the USDA’s Nutrient Data Laboratory (NDL) removed the USDA ORAC Database for Selected Foods from the NDL website due to mounting evidence that the values indicating antioxidant capacity have no relevance to the effects of specific bioactive compounds, including polyphenols on human health. Visit the NDL website for more information:

  3. Doesn't that hurt the commercial trade? I thought the "superberry" with high antioxidants was the commercial draw. How are commercial quantities marketed?

    1. In general, ORAC is a measure of the approximate antioxidant potential of a food. At worst it means an ORAC score can be used as a tool for manipulation and unscrupulous marketing. In my opinion, that is the main reason why the USDA’s Nutrient Data Laboratory (NDL) removed the USDA ORAC Database from the NDL website.

      ORAC scores are one of the things that many people use to judge whether something is healthy or not. Public perception is more important to marketing than the truth. For example, the newly published YouGov survey found that 11 percent of those surveyed believed that the so-called “superfoods” can prevent cancer and over one-third believed there are additional health benefits to eating superfoods. In fact, beliefs are more powerful than truths and perception is reality.

      So, removal of the ORAC Database from the NDL website will probably not hurt the commercial aronia berry trade. Most people didn’t even know that the ORAC Database was there in the first place.

      Dr. Eldon Everhart