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Prunus serotina var. serotina (Eastern black cherry)
Wasowski, Sally and Andy

Prunus serotina var. serotina

Prunus serotina Ehrh. var. serotina

Eastern Black Cherry, Black Cherry

Rosaceae (Rose Family)


USDA Symbol: prses

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

Eastern Black Cherry (Prunus serotina var. serotina) is the eastern variety of its species, Prunus serotina, ranging throughout much of eastern North America as far west as eastern Nebraska and east Texas. The features that distinguish it from the other Black Cherry varieties are larger size (to 110 ft); larger (6-15 cm), more finely toothed leaves with a tuft of hair at the base of the midrib on the underside; and generally shorter petioles.

It is an outstanding ornamental tree, renowned for its handsome trunk and branches, its vivid yellow fall color, and its ornamental spring blooms and summer fruit. In nature, Eastern Black Cherry is a pioneer species, helping colonize gaps and openings in forested areas. It prefers more acidic soils than more western P. serotina varieties and requires full or almost full sun. Its rich, reddish wood has been prized for centuries and its cherries (but nothing else) are edible; all other parts, including the seeds, are deadly poisonous if consumed, containing amygdalin and prussic acid. Birds and mammals feast on the fruit and a variety of butterflies and moths consume the leaves as caterpillars.


From the Image Gallery

2 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

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
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Inflorescence: Raceme
Fruit Type: Drupe
Size Notes: Can grow from 70 to 110 ft tall, shorter in the full sun of savannahs, taller in the more restricted sun of forest openings and edges
Leaf: dark green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Flower: Flowers 7-10 mm wide in 6-15 cm long racemes
Fruit: Dark red to purple-black 7-10 mm in diameter

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May
Bloom Notes: Blooms right after leaves emerge, March in east Texas, later farther north.


USA: AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , ND , NE , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: NB , NS
Native Distribution: Much of eastern North America, from Quebec and Nova Scotia in the north to Florida and the Gulf states in the south, west as far as east Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. Within Texas, limited to the eastern forests as far west as Dallas county and as far southwest as Harris county, just on the edge of the Blackland Prairie and the coastal prairie.
Native Habitat: Open forest, forest openings, forest edges, and savannas with adequate sunlight. Does not like shade.

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Drought Tolerance: Low
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Rich, moist but well-drained sands and sandy loams, neutral to acid pH
Conditions Comments: Highly averse to shade, found almost exclusively in full sun at forest edges and openings


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 prized for 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

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)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
(Papilio glaucus)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA
Cherry Gall Azure
(Celastrina serotina)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA


Propagation Material: Hardwood Cuttings , Root Cuttings , Seeds , Semi-hardwood Cuttings , Softwood Cuttings
Description: Seeds require cold stratification, possibly preceded by a period of warm stratification. Cuttings that work best are summer semi-hardwood. Root in a peat/sand medium.
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
Maintenance: Keep fallen leaves, twigs, and branches picked up if you have herbivorous animals, as all parts except the fruit are highly toxic.

From the National Organizations Directory

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

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX


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 293 - Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas (1979) Correll, D. S. & M. C. Johnston
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...

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

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


Record Modified: 2011-02-16
Research By: TWC Staff, GDG

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