Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), a rapidly growing woodland tree common throughout all of Ohio, is often found in open fields and previously harvested forests. Its beautiful, fine-grained, orange-brown to mahogany-colored heartwood ranks second only to Black Walnut as the ultimate choice for making solid wood furniture, interior trim, and high-quality veneer. Its small fruits are relished by birds and mammals as a food source in late summer. This tree is named for its ripened black cherries as well as its black-gray, flaky mature bark, which looks like black cornflakes pasted on the trunk of the tree.
A native of eastern and midwestern North America, Black Cherry is a pioneer invader tree in open fields or woodlots, and as such can become a "woody weed" as an aggressive sapling. In youth, it displays a symmetrical, often pyramidal growth habit, but it often divides into several upright branches due to storm damage and assumes an irregular shape as it matures. Also known as Wild Black Cherry, this tree may grow to 60 feet tall by 30 feet wide (or larger) when it is found in an open field. As a member of the Rose Family, it also is related to orchard trees (Apples, Plums, Peaches, Apricots, Cherries, Pears, and Almonds) as well as to Strawberries, Roses, and Blackberries, among others.
Planting Requirements - Black Cherry quickly invades a variety of sites due to its prolific fruit production and the resulting distribution of its seeds by birds and mammals. It prefers deep, moist, rich, well-drained soils of variable pH under full sun to partial sun conditions, but tolerates relatively dry, poor soils as well, with a reduced growth rate. It grows in zones 3 to 9.
Potential Problems - Like many members of the Rose Family, Black Cherry is beset with pest problems (the most serious being tent caterpillars, borers, scales, and aphids), and also has some diseases (primarily leaf spot and trunk canker). Abundant seedlings may arise in recently disturbed open areas and along fencerows, creating a weedy thicket of saplings in just a few years. Occasional storm damage occurs to the upper branches of this fast-growing tree due to its relatively weak sapwood.
Identifying Features - Black Cherry
Leaves of Black Cherry are among the first to emerge in early spring. They are alternate, simple, and have fine serrations along their margins.
The shiny leaves are dark green on their uppersides, light green on their undersides, and easily flutter in the breeze. Fall color is a subdued mixture of green, yellow, and orange hues, sometimes with a hint of red.
The showy white flowers of Black Cherry are arranged in long, pendulous, cylindrical structures that adorn the tree in mid-spring. The flowers are slightly fragrant, attract many bees, and later give rise to the fruits.
Some fruits of Black Cherry are eaten prematurely in mid- to late summer by birds and mammals, when the small cherries have a red or purple color. However, the remaining fruits will turn black and, while still bitter to the taste, are sweeter, juicier, and softer. The prominent internal seed easily germinates, thus this tree is widely dispersed by the many animals that consume the fruits.
Twigs of Black Cherry are thin, shiny, reddish-brown, and with prominent dotted lenticels. They give rise to the smooth branchlets and branches that are reddish-brown to reddish-gray and brightly shine in reflected sunlight, with striking horizontal lenticels. Lenticels are fairly common on young stems and branches of most woody plants in the genus Prunus.
The bark of mature trees is dark brown to black and conspicuously scaly. These scales are sometimes likened to blackened cornflakes or potato chips.
The Rose Family