Creature Feature: Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
By Emma Dean, CG Science Editor
The black cherry tree is native to the eastern half of the United States, but has made its way to several countries in Europe as early as the 17th century. In many countries, such as the Netherlands and Germany, it is a “forest pest.” In Denmark, it is planted to act as windbreaks with other species of trees due to its frost hardy, wind tolerant nature as well as its ability to easily establish on sandy soils.
In fact, the black cherry tree prefers moist, well-drained soils in cool-moist climates with high sun availability. During springtime, the tree produces white blossoms arranged in clusters. Its leaves are between two and six inches and oblong-shaped throughout the summer which is also when the tree produces dark, nearly black cherries. With the onset of autumn, the leaves undergo senescence and turn yellow and orange. However ornamental, the leaves release the distinctive cherry aroma of cyanide when crushed and are extremely poisonous to livestock though the fruit is perfectly safe for human consumption.
- Black cherry was grown for its aesthetic appeal in Paris around 1630 in parks and gardens.
- First planted at the beginning of the 20th century in the Netherlands, it has been deemed a pest since the 1950s.
- Black cherry trees tend to bloom later than other native cherries and even later at higher elevations.
- The timber is very valuable.
- Fruit is described as somewhat bittersweet.
- The bark of the black cherry tree was once used for medicinal purposes to concoct cough medicine and sedatives.
- The black cherry tree is a fast-growing tree that grows to a height of 45 to 60 feet.