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Tuesday - August 12, 2008

From: Nashville, TN
Region: Southeast
Topic: Seed and Plant Sources
Title: Source of black cherries for Tennessee
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I need to know where black cherries grow in TN. I need a source of black cherries in TN. Do they grow easily and can the trees be bought?


Prunus serotina var. serotina (black cherry) is the largest and most important cherry native to North America, and is, indeed, found growing naturally in Tennessee. This USDA Plant Profile shows the counties in Tennessee in which it is presently growing. It is apparently considered more important for the wood than the fruit. Limited flowering can begin a few years after planting; however, maximum production is usually found on trees between 30 and 100 years of age. The main value of the berries seems to be as a food source for migratory birds.

On the other hand, Prunus virginiana (chokecherry), a large shrub or small tree, is also found growing in Tennessee. This USDA Plant Profile shows it growing in counties in the eastern part of Tennessee, but they could very well be growing in more areas than shown on the map. Nashville, of course, is in the north central area of Tennessee, and is not included in the USDA location map. The site notes that range may be expanded by planting. For some opinions from gardeners on the chokecherry, you might be interested in reading the comments in this Dave's Garden forum on Prunus virginiana.

Here is a warning that applies to members of the genus Prunus, taken from our own website on Prunus virginiana (chokecherry).Warning: New growth, wilted leaves, or plant parts that are injured by frost or drought are poisonous to cattle and humans. The toxin, hydrocyanic acid, is formed in the animals stomach. Hydrocyanic acid quickly affects animals and causes difficulty in breathing, slow pulse, dilated pupils, staggering and loss of consciousness before death. Chokecherry toxicity is highest during the spring and summer; however, leaves are non-toxic by the time fruits mature.

Both of these plants, being in the same genus, share many of the problems of disease and insects. The stone fruits or members of the genus Prunus seem to be susceptible to many pests and diseases. See this North Dakota State University website on Disease Control in Cherries, Plums and Other Stone Fruits. That would address your question as to whether they were easy to grow.

It comes down to what you had in mind for the cherry tree-street tree, wood to make your own furniture, cherries for jelly? We even took a look at hybrids of various cherry plants, but they seemed to be geared to the decorative flowers in the Spring. At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, we recommend plants native to North America and to the area in which they are being grown. Many food crops either are not native or have been so extensively hybridized that they are no longer recognizable as native. Therefore, it would seem that a source for the kind of cherry you are looking for may be out of our range of expertise. We would suggest that you consult the University of Tennessee Extension Office for Davidson County. Their web home page gives contact information. County extension offices are more in touch with local growing conditons and with the production of food crops.

Finally, if you decide that what you want is one of the two natives we have cited above, go to our Native Plant Suppliers section, type in the town and state, and you will get a list of native plant nurseries, seed suppliers and landscape consultants in your area.



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