The USDA-ARS North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station (NCRPIS) in Ames, Iowa hosted a group of Aronia growers on September 6, 2016 led by Horticulturist, Jeff Carstens. Forty lines of native, North American species of Aronia berries are on display, including Aronia melanocarpa, Aronia x prunifolia, and Aronia arbutifolia. The majority of these collections were collected and donated by Dr. Mark Brand (University of Connecticut) from native populations throughout the eastern United States.
Agronomic variation was evident throughout the field plots including vigor, growth habit, yield, berry size, maturity date, plant height, and plant density. For most consumers, Aronia berries tend to be quite astringent and thus are commonly incorporated or processed into finished products such as jams, salsa, wine, juice, powders, etc. As with any comprehensive collection of genetically diverse germplasm collected across a species’ native range, variation for agronomic traits exists, and variation for taste can easily be noted. In addition to the field plot tour, visitors were provided with cups of fruit representing 13 different A. melanocarpa lines and a commercial standard, A. mitschurinnii ‘Viking’. Each person was asked to execute a taste test of the 14 samples harvested that morning using a 1-9 scale, with 1 = poor tasting, 5 = acceptable, and 9 = exceptional tasting.
Of the 14 samples provided for tasting, the commercial standard ‘Viking’ ranked 10th with a taste rating average of 5.3. The top two Aronia lines with highest average taste ratings were Ames 30007 and PI 662003, with ratings of 7.7 and 7.4, respectively. BRIX readings for Ames 30007 and PI 662003 were taken shortly before the tour at 18.3 and 20.5, respectively. BRIX readings for ‘Viking’ averaged 14.6. One of the participants pointed out that PI 662003 has the potential to be mechanically harvested. Both Ames 30007 and PI 662003 are adapted lines for the Midwest exhibiting dense growth and average vigor and are currently available for distribution via the NCRPIS. At NCRPIS, PI 662003 has tested one of the highest BRIX readings (26.8 approximately 14 days post peak maturity) out of all Aronia accessions tested to date. Peak fruiting for PI 662003 typically occurs the first week in September. Images of Aronia accessions and associated data can be found online. Additional information and germplasm requests may be provided upon request by contacting Jeff Carstens at email@example.com.