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Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

Black Cherry is native to eastern North America from southern Quebec and Ontario south to Texas and central Florida , with disjunct populations in Arizona and New Mexico , and in the mountains of Mexico and Guatemala .


The Black Cherry is a species in the subgenus Padus with flowers in racemes , and is a deciduous tree growing to 15-30 m tall with a trunk diameter of up to 70-120 cm, occasionally more. The leaves are simple, 6-14 cm long, with a serrated margin. The flowers are small (10-15 mm diameter), with five white petals and about 20 stamens, and are fragrant; there are around 40 flowers on each raceme. The fruit is a drupe , 1 cm diameter, green to red at first, ripening black; it is usually astringent and bitter when eaten fresh, but also somewhat sweet. The fruit is readily eaten by birds .

A mature Black Cherry can easily be identified in a forest by its very broken, dark grey to black bark, which has the appearance of very thick, burnt potato chips. However, for about the first decade or so of its life, the bark resembles that of a Birch , and is thin and striped. It can also quickly be identified by its long, shiny leaves resembling that of a Sourwood , and by an almond-like odor when a young twig is scratched and held close to the nose.


The Black Cherry is a pioneer species . In the Midwest , it is seen growing mostly in old fields with other sunlight loving species, such as Black Walnut , Black locust , and Hackberry . It is a moderately long-lived tree, with ages of up to 258 years known, though it is prone to storm damage with branches breaking easily; any decay resulting however only progresses slowly. [ 2 ] It is well known to proliferate in the Allegheny National Forest region of northwest Pennsylvania .

The Black Cherry is also a host of caterpillars of various Lepidoptera (see List of Lepidoptera which feed on Prunus ). The Eastern tent caterpillar defoliates entire groves some springs.


The fruit is suitable for making jam , cherry pies and has some use in flavoring liqueurs ; they are also a popular flavoring for sodas and used in many ice creams . The black cherry is commonly used instead of sweet cherries ( Prunus avium ) in order to achieve a sharper taste. It is also used in cakes which involve dark chocolate such as a Black Forest gateau and as garnishes to drinks like cocktails.

The timber is valuable, perhaps the premier cabinetry timber of the U.S., traded as "cherry". Its weight per cubic meter when dried is around 580kg.

The wood is also used for cooking and smoking foods, where it imparts a unique flavor.

The foliage, particularly when wilted, contains cyanogenic glycosides which convert to hydrogen cyanide if eaten by animals. It is recommended that farmers remove any Black Cherry trees that fall in a field containing livestock, because the wilted leaves could poison the animals. Removal is not always practical though, because Black Cherries often grow in very large numbers on farms, taking advantage of the light brought about by mowing and grazing. Entire fencerows can be lined with this poisonous tree, making it difficult to monitor all the branches falling into the grazing area.

Text and leaf photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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