Botanical Name: Prunus serotina
Common Name: Black Cherry
Origin: E. & C. North America
Notable Feature: A pioneer species seen growing mostly in old abandoned fields with other sunlight-loving species; in pre-colonial times it was a forest tree.
Habit: This deciduous tree, with a rapid growth rate to 60 to 90 feet tall, has an oval crown and pendulous branches. A mature black cherry can easily be identified by its very broken, dark grey to black bark. Another quick ID is an almond-like odor that is released when a young twig is scratched.
Flower: Perfect (bisexual), small white flowers in hanging, narrow clusters are 4 to 6” long and appear in late spring.
Fruit: Dark purple, round drupe, almost black when ripe, 1/3” in diameter with a bittersweet taste; matures in late summer and is edible.
Foliage: The ovate, dark green leaves are 2 to 5” long with serrated edges and arranged alternately along the branches. The leaves turn yellow in the fall.
Interesting Fact: Like apricots and apples, the seeds contain compounds that can be converted into cyanide. Although the flesh of cherries also contains these compounds, they do not contain the enzymes needed to produce cyanide, so the flesh is safe to eat. Its strong red color makes it a very valuable wood, perhaps the premier cabinetry timber of the U.S. It is host to a variety of caterpillars and the fruit is eaten by a variety of birds.