Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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

Planting a redbud in VA
April 20, 2011 - What is the best time of year to plant Redbud (Cercis canadensis)in Burke, VA, 22152 - fall or spring or does it matter? And is there a certain size tree that is best to purchase for greatest chance o...
view the full question and answer

Planning garden tasks in advance from Austin
January 03, 2012 - My yard was a disaster last year-grass and trees browning, early leaf fall on flowering plants, and water bills sky high, even with the limited watering days. What can I do this year to prevent this s...
view the full question and answer

Tree near a patio in Tennessee
January 02, 2009 - What type of tree would you plant near a patio (new home and yard) that gets afternoon sun? Thanks
view the full question and answer

Tree with tap root for small area near Dallas
September 07, 2009 - Mr. Smarty Plants, I live in Coppell, TX (a suburb of Dallas) & am looking for a tree to plant near our pool to provide some shade. The current tree (a silver leaf maple) is dying. My husband thi...
view the full question and answer

Hiring a landscaper in New Jersey
July 28, 2008 - Soon I will be hiring a landscaper to plant a privacy line of arborvitaes with a 1' retention wall and I need some help on prices. The quote I was given, which included 48 arborvitaes (and I will ac...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.