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Prunus serotina Ehrh.
Black cherry, Rum cherry
USDA Symbol: prse2
USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)
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. As many as 5 geographical varieties have been distinguished, currently including 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.
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: 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:
, 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:
Flowers 7-10 mm wide in 6-15 cm long racemes
Black, Red 7-10 mm in diameter Size Class:
12-36 ft. , 36-72 ft. , 72-100 ft. , More than 100 ft.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May , Jun
Bloom Notes: Flowers right after leaves emerge.
, WV Canada: NB
, 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
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 ConditionsWater Use:
Medium Light Requirement:
Sun , Part Shade , Shade Soil Moisture:
Dry , Moist Soil pH:
Alkaline (pH>7.2) , Acidic (pH<6.8) , Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2) Cold Tolerant:
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.
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:
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:
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:
Hardwood Cuttings , Root Cuttings , Seeds , Semi-hardwood Cuttings , Softwood Cuttings Description:
Seeds require cold stratification, with variety eximia
also needing after-ripening followed by warm stratification before cold stratification. Cuttings that work best are summer semi-hardwood. Seed Collection:
when it is filled out, firm, and its ripe color. Clean seeds from pulp and briefly air dry. (Seeds to be sown immediately in fall do not need drying.) Storage viability is maintained at 31-41 degrees. Seed Treatment:
For spring sowing, stratify seeds in moist sand for 30-60 days in a greenhouse, then cold stratify (36-41 degrees) for 60-90 days. Plant well before high temperatures. Commercially Avail:
Keep fallen leaves, twigs, and branches picked up if you have herbivorous animals, as all parts except the fruit
are highly toxic. Variety eximia
may go drought-deciduous in summer, so water some during droughts to prevent this.
Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)
is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
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National Wetland Indicator Status
This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1
(Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here
for map of regions.
Bibref 1255 - Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants
(2009) Tallamy, Douglas W.
Bibref 1186 - Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America
(2005) Covell, C.V., Jr.
Bibref 298 - Field Guide to Texas Trees
(1999) Simpson, B.J.
Bibref 1185 - Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides)
(1999) Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright
Bibref 946 - Gardening with Prairie Plants: How to Create Beautiful Native Landscapes
(2002) Wasowski, Sally
Bibref 481 - How to Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest: Revised and Updated Edition
(2001) Nokes, J.
Bibref 355 - Landscaping with Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest
(1991) Miller, G. O.
Bibref 293 - Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas
(1979) Correll, D. S. & M. C. Johnston
Bibref 354 - Native & Naturalized Woody Plants of Austin & the Hill Country
(1981) Lynch, D.
Bibref 663 - Poisonous Plants of North Carolina
(1994) Vondracek, W. ; L. Van Asch
Bibref 281 - Shinners & Mahler's Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas
(1999) Diggs, G. M.; B. L. Lipscomb; B. O'Kennon; W. F...
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife
(1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender
Bibref 297 - Trees of Central Texas
(1984) Vines, Robert A.
Bibref 1258 - Trees of Ontario
(2007) Kershaw, Linda
Bibref 286 - Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country
(1989) Enquist, M.
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Record Last Modified: 2013-06-27
Research By: TWC Staff, GDG