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Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

Also known as wild black cherry.

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Black Cherry

Summary

The largest tree of the Prunus genus in much of its range, the black cherry is a major component of Eastern forests, especially younger forests.

Range - Expand

LegendColor
Native
Native or Not Present
Introduced or Not Present

This tentative map is based on our own research. It may have limited data on Canada and/or Mexico, and there is some subjectivity in our assignment of plants as introduced vs. expanded. Read more in this blog post.

Habitat

Found primarily in early-successional woodlands, such as those that form following logging, abandonment of agricultural land, windthrow, or fire. Also in edge habitats and narrow forest fragments or rows of trees, and in some more open habitats such as savannas and moist bottomlands of arid regions.

Found on sites with a variety of moisture conditions, but most abundant on mesic sites. Most abundant on the Allegheny plateau, where it is found on all soil types and generally most common on east- and north-facing slopes at lower elevations. More common at higher elevations in the southern Appalachians.

In the north of its range, found on relatively drier sites, such as oak forests and savannas in southern Wisconsin.

In the southwest, confined to canyons and bottomlands.

Absent from mature closed-canopy forests except where isolated disturbance, such as windthrow, has occurred.

Humans have increased the prevalence of this species, primarily through logging which tends to result in the release of large number of black cherry seedlings to full sun, and through the creation of more edge habitat and isolated, narrow forest fragments or rows of trees.

Life Cycle

Seeds sprout in spring; germination requirements are relatively low, and seeds germinate easily in a wide range of moisture and lighting conditions. Germination is slightly better on moist seedbeds, and slightly better in loose soil and leaf litter than on mineral soils.

Under favorable condition, seedlings grow quickly, as much as 2-4 inches in one month. Heavily shaded seedlings grow slowly, as little as 6 inches in 3-4 years. Shaded seedlings typically survive for a few years but eventually die after about the 4th year if not released from shade. However, in some drier, more open habitats such as bur oak savanna, shade-suppressed seedlings can persist as long as 40-60 years by dying back to the root and then resprouting, much in the same way most oaks do.

If seedlings are released from shade, they grow rapidly.

Seed production typically peaks between 30 and 100 years of age. There is some seed production every year, with bumper crops occurring irregularly at 1-to-5 year intervals. Seeds are mostly distributed by birds, with some also distributed by mammals and many just by gravity, falling close to the parent tree. Most seeds are viable; seeds require cold dormancy for germination.

Seeds form a short-term seed bank, with only a small portion germinating in the first year, and some germinating the second or third year, but few surviving longer-term. This species thus maintains both a short-term seed bank, and a short-term bank of seedlings in shade-suppressed area, extending from 1-7 years following seed distribution.

Above-ground parts of adult trees are relatively susceptible to fire, but root systems and seeds are more resilient. Above-ground parts of larger trees can sometimes survive low-intensity surface fires.

Trees top-killed by fire or cutting resprout vigorously from the trunk; rate of resprouting is high for trees as old as 60 years of age, older than typical for hardwoods, as many hardwoods only resprout vigorously when younger.

Uses

This species is a key species for timber. Its wood is considered one of the most easily workable woods. The heartwood develops a reddish brown color with age, and is highly decay resistant; the sapwood is lighter in color and a bit less durable. Because it is so common and easily regenerates after harvest, it is more sustainable and tends to have a lower price than other woods of similar quality. It is mostly used in cabinetry, high-quality furniture, flooring, veneer, and various small objects.

The fruit is edible but small in size and is not typically cultivated or harvested for fruit. The relative sweetness of the fruit varies from tree to tree; some are quite bitter, but this species generally is more palatable than some Prunus species and has a relatively low astringency. One advantage of this fruit, however, is that it tends to come later in the summer than most commercial cherries.

Black Cherry | The Wood Database (About This Site)

Black Cherry | Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) (About This Site)

Prunus serotina (Wild Black Cherry) | Illinois Wildflowers (About This Site)

Prunus serotina (Black Cherry) | USDA PLANTS Database (About This Site)

Prunus serotina | Go Botany (About This Site)

Prunus serotina (Black Cherry) | Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder (About This Site)

Black Cherry | Virginia Tech Dendrology Factsheets (About This Site)

Black Cherry | Silvics of North America (About This Site)

Prunus serotina (black cherry) | CABI Invasive Species Compendium (About This Site)

Prunus serotina | Biota of North America Project (BONAP) (About This Site)

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