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Prunus emarginata (Bitter cherry)
Vick, Albert F. W.

Prunus emarginata

Prunus emarginata (Douglas ex Hook.) D. Dietr.

Bitter Cherry

Rosaceae (Rose Family)


USDA Symbol: prem

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

Thicket-forming shrub or small tree with rounded crown, slender, upright branches, bitter foliage, and small, bitter cherries.

This is the most common western cherry. The scientific name describes the notched petals. As the common name indicates, the fruit is not edible; like the bark and leaves, it is intensely bitter. However, the fruit is consumed by many songbirds and mammals and the foliage is browsed by deer and livestock.


From the Image Gallery

3 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

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

Bloom Information

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


USA: AZ , CA , ID , MT , NM , NV , OR , UT , WA , WY
Canada: BC
Native Distribution: British Columbia, Washington, and W. Montana south to S. California and SW. New Mexico; to 9000' (2743 m) in south.
Native Habitat: Moist soils of valleys and on mountain slopes; in chaparral and coniferous forests.

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium


Use Wildlife: Seeds contained in the bright red cherries are eagerly harvested by Evening Grosbeaks in early autumn.
Warning: The seeds of all Prunus species, found inside the fruits, contain poisonous substances and should never be eaten. Sensitivity to a toxin varies with a personís age, weight, physical condition, and individual susceptibility. Children are most vulnerable be
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Attracts: Butterflies
Larval Host: Admiral, Azure, Swallowtail (larval), orange tip, elfin, and blue (nectar) butterflies.
Nectar Source: yes

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)

Pale Swallowtail
(Papilio eurymedon)

Adult Food Source
Learn more at BAMONA

Find Seed or Plants

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

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:

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden - Santa Barbara, CA
Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR


Bibref 1186 - Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America (2005) Covell, C.V., Jr.
Bibref 1185 - Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides) (1999) Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 30 - Calflora (2018) Calflora
Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) 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 emarginata in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Prunus emarginata in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Prunus emarginata


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

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