Black cherry (Prunus serotina) is a medium to large deciduous tree with narrow, oval leaves with fine teeth on the margins (edges). Fall color is yellow to orange red. Twigs are slender and dark with small dark buds that often cluster at the twig tip. Bark of young trees is smooth and dark gray. Older bark is dark gray and scaly. Flowers are white, small (1/3” long), and arranged in 5” long clusters that appear in late spring after leaves. Fruits are red to purplish black, 1/3” long berries that ripen in late summer. Native to North America and commonly planted as a shade tree. Today it has become naturalized well beyond its original range. This species is the primary host for Tent Caterpillars and web “tents” are often conspicuous in branch angles. Black cherry is also frequently infested with black knot disease, a fungus that causes a thickened black woody growth along the twigs. Both of these afflictions can be useful identifying features at a distance. The scientific name serotina is Latin for late-coming, referring to the time of blooming or fruit ripening. Its hard reddish wood is prized for furniture-making. The bark, roots and leaves contain cyanogenic componds giving a bitter almond aroma. The fruits are bitter and inedible fresh off the tree but are used to make jams and jellies. Called rum cherry because fruit was used in colonial days as a flavor for rum. This tree was introduced to Europe in 1629.
Common name: Black Cherry, Wild Black Cherry, Rum Cherry, Cabinet Cherry , Mountain Black Cherry
Scientific Name (family and order): Prunus serotina Ehrhart (Rosaceae, Rosales)
Species Origin: North America
New Jersey Status: USDA Native
Habit: 30’ – 100’ tall x 30’; bole 1 -4’ diameter.
Habitat: Zones 3 -9. Wood pastures, roadsides.
Trunk/Stem: Tall straight, stout trunk. Bark reddish gray smooth with prominent horizontal lenticels on young tree; later bark become dark gray and scaly.
Leaves: Deciduous, Simple, Alternate. Ellipitcal to lanceolate, 4 ½” long and 2” wide; tapering tip, margins finely serrated; top of leaf dark green and smooth; underside paler and smooth with hairs along the midrib. 12 -16 pairs of veins. Leaves turn yellow or red in autumn.
Flowers: Perfect. 1/8” wide, 5 rounded white petals in spreading to drooping terminal spikes to racemes 6”long at the end of shoots late spring or early summer. Stamens long. Prunus flowers have 5 petals and 5-lobed sepals, numerous stamens, solitary pistil, superior ovary.
Fruits and seeds: Fruit drupe, ½” wide, red ripening to black on 4 -6” long drooping racemes