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

 Native Plant Database

Prunus serotina


Black cherry, Rum cherry


Rosaceae (Rose Family)



Prunus serotina (Black cherry)
Makin, Julie
Ranging from southeastern Canada through the eastern United States west to eastern Texas, with disjunct populations in central Texas and mountains of the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Guatemala, Black cherry is a 25-110 ft. deciduous tree, distinctly conical in youth. When open-grown it becomes oval-headed with spreading, pendulous limbs and arching branches. Crowded trees grow tall and slender. Southwestern varieties are often shrubby. Leaves shiny on the upper surface; blade oblong with a long pointed tip and tapering base, margins finely serrate. White flowers are held in drooping racemes after the glossy leaves have emerged. The dark red fruit changes to black from August through October. Aromatic tree; crushed foliage and bark have distinctive cherry-like odor and bitter taste, owing to the same cyanide-forming toxic compounds, such as amygdalin, found in the wood and leaves of some other woody members of the Rosaceae. Fall foliage is yellow.

This widespread species is the largest and most important native cherry. The valuable wood is used particularly for furniture, paneling, professional and scientific instruments, handles, and toys. Wild cherry syrup, a cough medicine, is obtained from the bark, and jelly and wine are prepared from the fruit. While the fruit is edible and used in beverages and cooking, the rest of the plant contains amygdalin and can be toxic if consumed. One of the first New World trees introduced into English gardens, it was recorded as early as 1629 in Europe and is now highly invasive there and in northern South America. Five geographical varieties are currently distinguished: P. serotina var. serotina (Eastern black cherry) in eastern North America as far west as east Texas, P. serotina var. eximia (Escarpment black cherry) in central Texas, and varieties virens (Southwestern black cherry) and rufula (Chisos black cherry) in mountains of southwestern North America. Populations inhabiting the interior mountains of Mexico and Guatemala are assigned to the subspecies P. serotina ssp. capuli (Capulin black cherry) but are sometimes classed as variety salicifolia.

Image Gallery:

14 photo(s) available

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Root Type: Fibrous
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Shape: Oblanceolate , Ovate
Leaf Venation: Pinnate
Leaf Pubescence: Glabrous , Villose
Leaf Margin: Crenate , Serrate
Leaf Apex: Acuminate
Leaf Base: Cuneate
Leaf Texture: Smooth
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Inflorescence: Raceme
Size Notes: Height depends on variety, with variety serotina reaching 110 ft. in the east, the Southwestern varieties less than a third that, and var. eximia maxing at ca. 50 ft.
Leaf: Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Flower: Flowers 7-10 mm wide in 6-15 cm long racemes
Fruit: Black, Red 7-10 mm in diameter
Size Class: 12-36 ft. , 36-72 ft. , 72-100 ft. , More than 100 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May , Jun
Bloom Notes: Flowers right after leaves emerge.

Distribution

USA: AL , AZ , AR , CT , DE , FL , GA , IL , IN , IA , KS , KY , LA , ME , MD , MA , MI , MN , MS , MO , NE , NH , NJ , NM , NY , NC , ND , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VT , VA , WV , WI , DC
Canada: NB , NS , ON , QC
Native Distribution: N.S. to MN & e. NE, s. to FL Panhandle & e. TX; disjunct populations in central TX and the southwestern US from west TX to AZ, south into mountains of Mexico and Guatemala.
Native Habitat: Moist or dry, open woods; fence rows; roadsides; old fields. Thickets, woodlands, canyons, floodplains, and lower riparian slopes.

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist , Dry
Soil pH: Alkaline (pH>7.2) , Acidic (pH<6.8) , Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
Cold Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Well-drained soils. pH preference depends on variety and region, with Eastern Black Cherry preferring neutral to acidic, Escarpment Black Cherry rich but more calcareous limestone soils, and the Southwestern varieties accepting a broad range.
Conditions Comments: Black cherry is known for the beauty and quality of its wood. The green leaves turn to yellow in the fall. It is easy to grow and will reward you with dangling, lace-like blossoms in the spring. Its light and soil pH requirements vary by regional variety. Wildlife eat the fruits. This is a fast-growing, pioneer species. Eastern tent caterpillars prefer black cherries. The plant drops lots of twigs, leaves, and fruit, and in cultivation can be allelopathic to garden plants.

Benefit

Use Ornamental: A showy tree with handsome trunk and branches, attractive foliage, especially in fall, and ornamental blooms and fruit. Easy to grow.
Use Wildlife: Fruit consumed by 33 species of birds and many mammals.
Use Food: Cherries eaten raw (must be pitted) and used in jellies, jams, pies, and as a flavoring extract in drinks and syrups.
Use Medicinal: Inner bark used in cough syrups, sedatives, and tonics.
Use Other: Wood long used in furniture making and other things because of its lustrous, dark red tint.
Warning: All parts of Prunus species except the fruits contain poisonous substances and should never be eaten. The bark, leaves, and seeds of this species are especially toxic. POISONOUS PARTS: Wilted leaves, twigs (stems), seeds. Highly toxic to humans and herbivorous mammals. May be fatal if ingested. Symptoms include gasping, weakness, excitement, pupil dilation, spasms, convulsions, coma, respiratory failure. Toxic Principle: Cyanogenic glycoside, amygdalin, prussic acid. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.)
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Fragrant Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Cherry Gall Azure, Viceroy, Columbia Silkmoth, Promethea Moth, Small-eyed Sphinx Moth, Wild Cherry Sphinx Moth, Banded Tussock Moth, Band-edged Prominent, Spotted Apatelodes.
Nectar Source: yes

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Prunus serotina is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
New England buckmoth
(Hemileuca lucina)

Food Source
Learn more at BAMONA
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
(Papilio glaucus)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA
Viceroy
(Limenitis archippus)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA
Columbia silkmoth
(Hyalophora columbia)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Last Update: 2013-12-14