This native member of the rose family (Rosaceae) can reach 38 m tall. The bark of larger trunks is fissured and scaly, but thin. The leaves are alternate, simple, ovate to oblong-lanceolate, 5-15 cm long, 2.5-5 cm wide, with finely toothed margins, glabrous or commonly with reddish hairs along the midrib beneath, near the base. Flowers are white and are borne on oblong-cylindric racemes that are 10-15 cm long at the end of leafy twigs of the season. The fruits are berry-like, about 8-10 mm in diameter, obovoid, and black when ripe. The common name is from the black color of the ripe fruits.
Black cherry grows from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick west to Southern Quebec and Ontario into Michigan and eastern Minnesota; south to Iowa, extreme eastern Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas, then east to central Florida. Several varieties extend the range: Alabama black cherry (var. alabamensis) is found in eastern Georgia, northeastern Alabama, and northwest Florida with local stands in North and South Carolina; escarpment cherry (var. eximia) grows in the Edwards Plateau region of central Texas; southwestern black cherry (var. rufula) ranges from the mountains of Trans-Pecos Texas west to Arizona and south into Mexico; capulin black cherry (var. salicifolia) is native from central Mexico to Guatemala and is naturalized in several South American countries.
Throughout the eastern United States, black cherry is a component of many forest cover types. It is primarily a northern hardwood species, occurring as a common associate in most cover types of this group. Northern hardwood stands that contain large amounts of black cherry are recognized as a separate type forest called Black Cherry-Maple. Several species of flies, a flower beetle, and several species of bees work the blossoms for pollen and nectar. Black cherry fruits are an important source of mast for many nongame birds, squirrel, deer, turkey, mice, moles, foxes, and bears. Thus, birds and omnivorous mammals help black cherry spread by distributing seeds in their droppings. White-tailed deer, rabbits, and hare also feed on black cherry seedlings. Porcupines girdle and kill black cherry trees and also consume bark, thereby providing entry points for fungi.
In addition to being an important source of food for wildlife, humans have found the tree a valuable resource. The bark has medicinal properties and is used in cough medicines, tonics, and sedatives. The fruit is used to make jelly and wine, with Appalachian pioneers historically flavoring rum and brandy with it to make a drink called cherry bounce. This led to its common name of rum cherry. Black cherry wood is a rich reddish-brown color and is strong, hard, and close-grained - one of the most valued cabinet and furniture woods in North America. It is also used for paneling, interior trim, veneers, handles, crafts, toys, and scientific instruments. Black cherry is used for reclamation of surface mine spoil.
Marquis, D.A. (2004). Black cherry (prunus serotina Ehrh.). Retrieved from http://www.na.fs.fed.us/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_2/silvics_v2.pdf
Nesom, G. (2004). Plant guide for black cherry (prunus serotina Ehrh.). Retrieved from http://plants.usda.gov/java/factSheet
|whole tree (or vine) - general|
|whole tree (or vine) - winter|
|bark - unspecified|
|bark - of a large tree|
|leaf - showing orientation on twig|