Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Prunus pensylvanica

Pin cherry, Fire cherry, Wild red cherry, Bird cherry, Pigeon cherry

Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Prunus pensylvanica (Pin cherry)
Smith, R.W.
Fire cherry or pin cherry is a slender, sometimes shrubby, tree, 35-50 ft. tall. Fine-textured, bright red branches; reddish to yellow-orange, mature bark; flat-topped clusters of white flowers; and bright red fruit are some of the plantís attributes. Small tree or shrub with horizontal branches; narrow, rounded, open crown; shiny red twigs; bitter, aromatic bark and foliage; and tiny red cherries. Fall foliage is colorful.

This species is often called Fire Cherry because its seedlings come up after forest fires. The plants grow rapidly and can be used for fuel and pulpwood. It is also a nurse tree, providing cover and shade for the establishment of seedlings of the next generation of larger hardwoods. The cherries are made into jelly and are also consumed by wildlife.

Image Gallery:

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Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf: Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Red
Size Class: 36-72 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: May


USA: CO , CT , GA , IL , IN , IA , ME , MD , MA , MI , MN , MT , NH , NJ , NY , NC , ND , OH , PA , RI , SD , TN , VT , VA , WV , WI , WY
Canada: AB , BC , MB , NB , NL , NS , ON , PE , QC , SK
Native Distribution: Lab. to e. B. C., s. to NJ, SC mts., IL & SD
Native Habitat: Dry to moist clearings; open woods; woodland edges; disturbed areas

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Dry
Soil pH: Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: None
Soil Description: Rocky or sandy, well-drained soils.
Conditions Comments: Pin cherry grows very rapidly but serves only as a pioneer species, usually disappearing within 20 years unless sites are repeatedly disturbed. Branches break in ice storms.


Use Wildlife: Twenty-five species of nongame birds, several upland game birds, fur and game mammals, and small mammals eat pin cherry fruit. Buds are eaten by upland game birds, especially sharp-tailed and ruffed grouse. Foliage and twigs are browsed by deer. However, the foliage has a high calcium to phosphorous ratio which is undesirable for good deer nutrition. Except in dense thickets, pin cherry provides only fair nesting cover and materials for birds. Beavers cut pin cherry and may completely remove small stands . Leaves are poison (hydrocyanic acid) to livestock under certain conditions. However, the toxicity of pin cherry leaves is lower than that of most other cherry species. (USDA Forest Service)

Use Food: EDIBLE PARTS: Fruits are used for jelly or syrup. Boil down in water, strain, and add sugar to taste. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.)
Warning: POISONOUS PARTS: Wilted leaves, twigs (stems), seeds. Highly toxic, may be fatal if eaten. Symptoms include gasping, weakness, excitement, pupil dilation, spasms, convulsions, coma, respiratory failure. Toxic Principle: Cyanogenic glycoside, amygdalin.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Fragrant Flowers: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Columbia silkmoth

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Prunus pensylvanica is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
Columbia silkmoth
(Hyalophora columbia)

Food Source
Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Last Update: 2015-05-15