Chokecherry trees: an invasive species in Interior Alaska

Tune in for today's latest news stories on KXDF CBS News 13 at 5pm.
Published: Sep. 29, 2023 at 10:09 AM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Invasive species are a problem anywhere, but one particular shrub in our community may pose a threat to moose. A statewide workshop put on by the Cooperative Extension Service on Thursday offered tips on these species and how to avoid them.

The chokecherry, a small broad-leaf tree or shrub native to the Lower 48, was originally introduced to attract songbirds and pollinators, and is often planted as an ornament in yards and lawns. In recent years, however, this was proved to have been a mistake.

According to Gino Graziano, an invasive species specialist with the Cooperative Extension Service, both the prunus padus and the prunus virginiana varieties of chokecherry are considered invasive. This is partially because of their willingness to quickly spread to new areas, and because they grow so densely that their root systems crowd out native plants.

Chokecherries are also toxic to moose and other ruminants, due to cyanide compounds that build up in the leaves, seeds, and buds at the tips of the branches. Damage to the twigs, such as freezing or being browsed on by moose, prompts the shrub to produce more toxins. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has confirmed that multiple local moose calves died during previous winters from eating chokecherry twigs.

The Forest Service notes that large stands of chokecherries have spread in Fairbanks, along several walking trails and along the Chena River near the Carlson Center.

The Cooperative Extension Service suggests replacing your chokecherry trees with a less aggressive species, and asks that people refrain from dumping their unwanted ornamental plants out in the woods.

More information about these variety of chokecherry trees can be found on the Cooperative Extension Service website.