Have you seen this TREE

We’re looking for invasive chokecherry trees, and we need your help!

The Kenai Peninsula Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (KP-CISMA) is a partnership of government agencies, non-profit organizations, and tribal entities that works to prevent the spread of the most harmful invasive species on the Kenai Peninsula. We collaborate on everything from surveying and monitoring to invasive plant treatment to outreach and education.

Chokecherry trees (a.k.a. mayday or European bird cherry) have been in our spotlight recently, and we’re reaching out to communities across the peninsula to ask: Have you seen these trees?

Prized by gardeners and landscapers for their showy blooms, clusters of pea-sized cherries, striking foliage, and overall hard-to-kill-ness, they seem like the perfect plant to liven up any Alaskan garden. But don’t be fooled – these beauties are a problem.

Chokecherries n Alaska

You’ll find two species of these invasive trees in Alaska: Prunus padus, commonly known as European bird cherry or mayday, and Prunus virginiana, or chokecherry. Prunus virginiana is native to parts of the lower 48, while Prunus padus hails from Europe. For the sake of simplicity, the two species are often collectively referred to by the catch-all common name, chokecherry.

Introduced to Alaska in the 1950s as an ornamental, chokecherry quickly became a popular landscape choice. From Fairbanks to Southeast, Anchorage and the Mat-Su, and across the Kenai Peninsula, people eagerly bought up the trees, planted them in their yards, and (totally unaware of the future consequences) sat back to watch them grow. And grow, they did.

It didn’t take long for the trees to escape cultivation and move into intact ecosystems, where they quickly changed everything.

What's the problem with chokecherries in Alaska?

Across the state, chokecherry represents one of the most problematic and harmful invasive plants. They crowd out native plants and take over forest and riparian habitats, reduce biodiversity, spread along salmon streams where they alter the availability of prey for juvenile salmon, and can be toxic to moose.

Once established, chokecherry trees are difficult to remove. They reproduce and spread by seeds – birds eat the cherries and deposit the seeds elsewhere, often miles from the “mother” tree. They resprout from stumps, branches, and roots, and cutting the trees does nothing but stimulate growth. Many a landowner has been surprised (and frustrated) by the hundreds of sprouts that popped up after cutting down a chokecherry. Of course, chokecherries spread using this same vigorous growth strategy outside our manicured yards.

How does the KP-CISMA help with the chokecherry problem in Alaska?

The KP-CISMA collaborates on a variety chokecherry projects across the peninsula. Here are a few we’re working on in 2022:

Calvin and Coyle chokecherry removal and art project

Homer Soil and Water Conservation District (HSWCD), Kachemak Heritage Land Trust, and Homer Council on the Arts have teamed up to remove chokecherries along the Calvin and Coyle trail in Homer. The coolest part? The wood is slated to become the centerpiece of an art event where participants will turn the once-troublesome trees into works of art.

City of Homer chokecherry removal and replacement

Homer SWCD and the City of Homer have collaborated to remove and replace chokecherries on city properties. Funded by the City of Homer, the project not only protects ecosystems and wildlife but also ensures Homer’s public spaces remain enjoyable for all. Perhaps most importantly, it serves as a model for other communities and provides a platform for engagement around broader invasive species topics.

Landowner assistance for chokecherry removal

Through funding from the Alaska Division of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service, the KP-CISMA assists landowners on the southern and central peninsula with the removal of chokecherry trees. We hope to expand this program to other communities - including Seward - in the coming years. If you have a chokecherry tree, we’d love to chat with you about removal options (it can be tricky) and how we might be able to help you.

An ongoing effort

Removing every single chokecherry tree on the Kenai Peninsula isn’t a realistic goal – the trees are too established in some of the peninsula’s more populated communities, making eradication impossible. But, in some smaller communities, such as Cooper Landing, Hope, and Seward, we’re optimistic that we still have a chance to eradicate the trees – if we act quickly.

As long as chokecherry trees persist on the peninsula, we’ll continue to think up creative ways to protect our native ecosystems from the impacts of these pretty but problematic plants. 

How you can help

• Ask nurseries to stop selling invasive chokecherry trees. The Municipality of Anchorage has banned the sale of chokecherries, but they are widely available on the Kenai Peninsula.

• Consider alternatives like crab apple, saskatoon (serviceberry), and Ussurian pear.

• Spread the word! Share this article, talk to your neighbors, go to your city council – many people aren’t aware that chokecherries are invasive.

• Remove chokecherry trees from your property. It may seem obvious, but many people are reluctant to take this step. Read up on the options so you can make an informed decision.

For questions and to find out how we might be able to assist you with removal of chokecherry trees on your property email jen@homerswcd.org or call 907-235-8177 ext. 5. Visit kenaiinvasives.org to learn more about the KP-CISMA.