Current Research

 Beginning in 2015, two varieties of Aronia will be evaluated in our trials over 4 sites. They are Viking and McKenzie.  McKenzie was produced from seeds from the Russian breeding program and released by the USDA-NRCS and several Midwestern Agricultural experiment Stations. Viking is a widely grown cultivar for commercial production. It is also of Russian origin and has been shown to be a cross between Sorbus and Aronia (Leonard et al. 2013). An ornamental variety, Autumn Beauty, will be planted at the WARC site to illustrate the difference in growth and production between the fruit production and ornamental varieties.

 

 This fruiting shrub is partially native to North America, however the native variety is considered more successful as an ornamental.  Commercial varieties are grown extensively in Northern and Eastern Europe.  Production in the US is small but increasing.  Growers in the northern Midwest have formed an association and regional processors have found good demand for their products.  The fruit is quite bitter raw and is primarily used in processed foods and drinks.  Aronia is well suited for growth in the northern plains and Rocky Mountains.  In cold hardy fruit evaluation conducted by Dale Secher and University of Wisconsin Center for Integrated Ag Systems, aronia was selected as one of the top five promising novel fruits. There is a good overview of the fruit by J. Hannan from Iowa State Extension on the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center’s web site.

  Part of their promise is due to their potential health benefits.  Berries are nearly black due to high anthocyanin content!

Berry

Anthocyanin content per 100g fresh berries

Aronia

1480mg

Blackberries

245mg

Blueberries

390-490mg

Black Raspberries

687mg

Elderberries

1375mg (Wu  et al 2006)

 

According to the USDA’s table of antioxidant activities, the berries are also one of the best sources for antioxidants. Antioxidants can counter the damage caused by free radicals. The strength of an antioxidant compound is measured in ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) units.  The more oxygen radicals a food can absorb and deactivate, the higher its antioxidant strength and the higher the ORAC score. Raw aronia berries have almost three times the antioxidant capacity of blueberries and blackberries and nearly twice the values for black currants and cranberries. 

ORAC chart

 

 

This extension publication from Cornell University provides an overview of Aronia and Elderberry.

 Varieties

The main difference in varieties is between varieties for commercial fruit production and varieties available for ornamental use.  Keep in mind that the commercial varieties can produce berries twice the size of the ornamental varieties. There are around 11 cultivars for commercial fruit production. They all have quite similar genetics and performance. Three of the leading cultivars were nearly identical when compared through genetic markers. (Smolik et al 2011).    Most of the cultivars for commercial fruit production are the result of a cross between Aronia melanocarpa and Sorbus aucuparia (European Mountain Ash) (Leonard et al 2013, Kask 1987). They are sometimes called  Aronia mitschurinii in honor of the Russian Pomologist, Ivan Michurin, who developed this cross in the early 20th century.  

In contrast, most ornamental varieties are derived from wild-type Aronia melanocarpa, and while pleasing as a landscape plant, are not as vigorous and productive at bearing fruit.   Dr. Mark Brand (U Conn) is working on developing new cultivars based on native material. He recommended Aronia melonocarpa ‘Elata’.  Pure A. melanocarpa has relatively large fruit and good fruit production, but he suspects it will not be as productive as the hybrids available for commercial fruit production. Dr. Brand and colleagues put out a SARE report summarizing a recent aronia project.