Prunus serotina (Fr: Cerisier tardif | En: Black cherry)
Regular price $15.00 CAD
Regular priceUnit price per
Black cherry are our largest species of cherry and one of only two species that truly grow into a single stem tree.
It can easily be identified as a mature tree by its distinctive black scaled bark. Younger trees can appear somewhat similar to chokecherry but have one stem and a distinctive fuzz on the midvein underneath the leaf.
The Black cherry is considered by many to be superior tasting to Chokecherries, however palatability can vary considerably across individual trees so if you find a tasty tree, let me know The cherries are best when processed into syrups, jams, jellies, pies or into wine or other alcoholic drinks. In fact, a common name for the plant “Rum cherry” comes from the formerly common use of the fruits to flavour rum, brandy and other spirits.
Just make sure you do not consume the cherry pits, like other Prunus spp. black cherry produces a chemical that breaks down into Cyanide compounds. All parts of the Black cherry tree except the fleshy fruit can contain these compounds. In fact is you scratch a young branch or crush some leaves, you might be able to smell the characteristic almond smell, this is the smell of the cyanide.
Medically, the inner bark of Black cherry has been long used in tonics and cough syrup, this is the reason why you may associate cherry flavour with cough syrup. However, I do not recommend making your own as you could poison yourself.
The wood of Black cherry is, along with Balck walnut (Juglans nigra), among the highest value wood found in our valley. It is often used for furniture, flooring and cabinetry. It is also used well for sculpting and turning. You can often find tobacco pipes and musical instruments made out of Black cherry. I’ve sometimes joked that my retirement plan is to plant several acres of Black cherry and Black walnut, which is possible because Black cherry is tolerant of the walnut chemical juglone.
The black cherry forests can transition to a mixed beech, sugar maple, hemlock and hickory forests. It seems to do well with infrequent fires and can sprout back faster than even fire dependant White oak (Quercus alba). However, it dies quickly with repeated fires over a short period of time, unlike White oak, as the Black cherry deplete their energy reserves when re-sprouting from burnt stumps.
Black cherry is an important food source for many different birds including many beautiful frugivore (fruit eating) song birds, such as Orioles (Icterus galbula), Cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) and Scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea) among many others.
Black cherry trees, and Prunus spp. in general, feed a huge number of different butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera). It even gives its name to Wild cherry sphinx moth (Sphinx drupiferarum) and the Cherry gall azure butterfly (Celastrina serotina). Some of these caterpillars eat cherry to absorb the poison from the cherry leaves as a defense mechanism similar to how Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) with Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.)
One sadly unloved group are tent caterpillars. There are a few species of native tent caterpillar that associate with Black cherry including the Eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum), Ugly-nest caterpillar moth (Archips cerasivorana) and Fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea). These three cause little harm to trees, and attempts to remove them usually harm the tree worse than letting the caterpillars be. Forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria) can be more problematic for people because of their boom-bust population cycle that leads to massive population spikes every decade or so, however these aren’t commonly associated with Black cherry trees. These tent caterpillars are fed on and parasitized by dozens by many different insects and birds. Black billed cuckoos (Coccyzus erythropthalmus) and Yellow billed cuckoos (Coccyzus americanus) in particular, prefer these caterpillars, but Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata), nuthatches (Sitta spp.) and others also feed on them. Thus the Black cherry directly or indirectly feeds an incredible number of animals.
Black cherry, like other Prunus spp. can be affected by the fungus Black knot (Apiosporina morbosa /Dibotryon morbosum). This fungus is native to eastern North America and it can infect most if not all Prunus spp. It creates galls that start green in spring, and by autumn turn black. By the time you notice the characteristic Black knots however, the fungi has already spread its spores through wind and rain. These can kill the branches they grow on by girdling the branch. However, this disease is not at all a problem in our forests as our indigenous Prunus spp.have long evolved to deal with Black knot. However in orchards and garden settings, Black knot can cause much damage, especially to introduced species like European sweet cherry (Prunus avium) or Peaches (Prunus persica). This fungus is not yet present in Europe, and great efforts go into quarantining to prevent widespread infection in Europe and Asia.
Height: 15 to 24 metres
Habitat: deciduous forests, early successional forests
Sun requirements: full Sun
Moisture requirements: moderate to moist intolerant of wet poor draining soils
Soil requirements: various