En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Friday - May 21, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Is Black Cherry allelopathic from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Is the Black Cherry an appropriate tree to plant in north Austin as a shade tree? Your site says this tree may be allelopathic to garden plants . Do you know specifically which plants it might help or hinder? Thanks.

ANSWER:

There are five members of the Prunus genus with the words "black cherry" as part of their common names and are also native to Texas. They are Prunus serotina (black cherry), Prunus serotina var. eximia (black cherry), Prunus serotina var. rufula (black cherry), Prunus serotina var. serotina (black cherry) and Prunus serotina var. virens (black cherry). Of these, 2 are native to Travis County: Prunus serotina (black cherry) and Prunus serotina var. eximia (black cherry).

We found the reference to allelopathy that you mentioned on the webpage in our Native Plant Database for Prunus serotina (black cherry)

"The plant drops lots of twigs, leaves, and fruit, and in cultivation can be allelopathic to garden plants."

All members of the genus Prunus have poisonous parts. In fact, the only parts not poisonous are the skin and the fruit. The seeds are extremely poisonous, and the leaves, especially shriveled leaves, as well as twigs, branches and roots are poisonous. If soil beneath a plant is covered with litter that is toxic in nature, that is going to be a big barrier to the germination or flourishing of anything else. 

Different plants have different chemicals which cause their allelopathy. With the black cherry, it's a substance called amygdalin. The black walnut has juglones, the magnolia sesquiterpene lactones. The acidity in pine needles causes acidity in the soils which can be damaging to plants. To our knowledge, there are no studies presently available on what plants would be resistant to these allelopathic agents, regardless of what chemical is involved. If you had something you really wanted to plant beneath a Black Cherry, about your best defense would be to keep the ground beneath it thoroughly raked, removing and disposing of any litter as quickly as it appeared.

For many years, we gardened with volunteer (probably brought to us by birds) Prunus caroliniana (Carolina laurelcherry). This was long before we had ever heard of allelopathy, and had a lot of native  Quercus stellata (post oak), also suspected of emitting substances to keep competitors from coming up. It was difficult to grow anything in that yard, and we always thought it was just the shade from the oaks. This article from Floridata, Prunus serotina, says that most people acquire the tree as we did, by bird delivery, and it is not widely available in the nursery trade. It can grow from 40 to 60 ft. tall in cultivation, and is said to be fast-growing. 

Your question was whether this plant would be appropriate. That is a decision only you can make; if you are determined to have flower beds beneath the tree or if you have small children or pets that might eat some of the fallen material, it is probably not appropriate. 

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Prunus serotina

Prunus serotina

Prunus serotina var. eximia

Prunus serotina var. eximia

 

 

 

More Trees Questions

Summer flowering small trees for NY
April 20, 2011 - Request recommendations about trees for terrace. Would like flowers or color in summer; not spring. (Some of my trees are twenty five feet high.) Full sun, some wind, large containers. Please recomme...
view the full question and answer

Protection of live oak trees from covering by concrete patio
February 02, 2008 - I am thinking about pouring a large cement patio around my live oak trees in my yard. I live in Rockport Tx. How far should the edge of the cement be, from the base of the tree? Will the patio kill th...
view the full question and answer

Young huisache trees dying
October 02, 2015 - We have had several young huisache trees suddenly die. These trees are only three or four years old and were apparently healthy when they just died. They are growing by the curb on a city street and w...
view the full question and answer

Sap oozing from non-native Chinese pistache in San Antonio
September 07, 2011 - I live in San Antonio, and my chinese pistache is exuding copious amounts of a sticky sap from old trim sites and from the trunk itself. The tree is about 12 years old and has been healthy up until no...
view the full question and answer

Best time of year to trim oak trees from Beloit WI
July 23, 2010 - What is the best time of year to trim oak trees?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center