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Prunus pensylvanica (Pin cherry)
Smith, R.W.

Prunus pensylvanica

Prunus pensylvanica L. f.

Pin Cherry, Fire Cherry, Wild Red Cherry, Bird Cherry, Pigeon Cherry

Rosaceae (Rose Family)


USDA Symbol: PRPE2

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N), SPM (N)

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.


From the Image Gallery

21 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Fruit Type: Drupe
Size Notes: Up to about 50 feet tall.
Leaf: Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Red

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun


USA: CO , CT , GA , IA , IL , IN , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MT , NC , ND , NH , NJ , NY , OH , PA , RI , SD , TN , VA , VT , WI , WV , 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
Drought Tolerance: High
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

Value to Beneficial Insects

Special Value to Native Bees

This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Columbia silkmoth
(Hyalophora columbia)

Adult Food Source
Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA


Description: Prunus species may be rooted from dormant hardwood, softwood, semi-hardwood, or root cuttings. Semi-hardwood and softwood cuttings taken in summer root easiest. Germination of most seeds requires cold stratification. Suckers can be separated from paren
Seed Collection: Collect fruit 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: yes

Find Seed or Plants

Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Alternatives to non-Texas native pin cherry for Texas
February 28, 2006
Dear Ms. Smarty Plants, I learned that the fire cherry/ pin cherry is a very hardy tree, and that it is very drought resistant. I live in zone 7, on black land, which becomes very dry in the summer. ...
view the full question and answer

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.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR

Web Reference

Webref 3 - Flora of North America (2014) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

Additional resources

USDA: Find Prunus pensylvanica in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Prunus pensylvanica in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Prunus pensylvanica


Record Modified: 2023-05-10
Research By: TWC Staff

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