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Prunus serotina

Black Cherry

Origin:  It commonly occurs in climax forests in eastern Canada through southern Quebec and Ontario and as far south in the eastern United States as Texas and central Florida. Isolated populations may also be found in Arizona and New Mexico and further south in the mountain ranges and cooler areas of Mexico and Guatemala.
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A native tree found in climax forests of Southern Ontario, usually as solitary individuals, and easily identifiable in winter because of its dark, almost black, plate-like bark. Beautiful when in flower although not showy enough to be used as an ornamental. The wood is high grade and often used in fine furniture while the fruit is an important wildlife food source.

Michael Pascoe, NDP., ODH., CLT., MSc. (Plant Conservation)


Tree (deciduous)
USDA Hardiness Zone
3 - 9
Canadian Hardiness Zone
RHS Hardiness Zone
H7 - H3
Temperature (°C)
(-37) - (-1)
Temperature (°F)
(-35) - 30
18-27 m
11-15 m
Description and Growing Information
Flowering Period
General Description
A tall, usually straight trunked tree, commonly found singly in mature forests. The bark is light to dark gray, developing into squarish scaly, regularly sized plates . The leaves are oval to lance shaped and are shiny dark green are 5-15 cm long and arranged alternately. They have an acute apex and are finely serrate.
It has limited cultural landscape applications and is suited to habitat restoration schemes and the production of lumber. It parts of Europe is may be considered and invasive species.
P. serotina is intolerant of shade and naturally occurs in open clearings in forest canopies. It is tolerant of a wide range of soil types but prefers some summer moisture and is intolerant of wet feet. There are many pests that affect the tree although rarely to its detriment.
Usually a straight trunked tree with an oblong to pyramidal crown.
ID Characteristic
When crushed, the leaves smell like black cherry soda pop. The black, regularly plated bark and the long, thin, shiny leaves are also good indicators.
Eastern tent caterpillar, cherry scallop shell moth, peach tree beetle and the peach tree borer may be of concern and at times (although rare) fatal. Black knot and cherry leaf spot are two common diseases that after repeated attacks can prove fatal to the tree. Plum Pox: Symptoms may be confused with other diseases/disorders such as nutrient deficiencies or pesticide injuries. PPV symptoms can occur on leaves, flowers and/or fruit. Faint yellow rings or lines may be found on the leaves. PPV generally does not cause plant mortality however, can reduce the plant productivity and longevity. How to Reduce the Spread and Impact of PPV: 1. Propagate vulnerable Prunus trees and shrubs outside of the affected area a. Isolation is important to protect clean plants from future spread of the disease. b. Propagating and growing vulnerable plants away from the virus-infected area reduce the likelihood of the disease spreading any further. This should be as far away from the quarantined area and any potential sources of the virus. 2. Propagate Prunus plants with virus-free Budwood and Rootstock from virus tested mother trees a. This eliminates the propagation link for viral diseases. 3. Inspect vulnerable Prunus for symptoms a. All Prunus shrubs and trees should be visually inspected for symptoms at lease twice per year and conducted by trained personnel familiar with the virus. b. Any plants found to be infected should not be moved or sold and must be reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency immediately. c. Inspections should not be conducted in periods of hot weather (temperatures over 30˚C). 4. Manage aphid vectors a. Aphids are extremely attracted to suckers (vegetative shoots at the base of the tree), these should be removed to avoid aphid colonization, feeding or migration. 5. Plant tolerant and resistant varieties a. When available, grow plum pox tolerant or resistant Prunus varieties.
Throughout its range P. serotina grows well on a wide variety of soils if summer growing conditions are cool and moist. In Canada it grows near sea level, whereas in Appalachian it exists at elevations up to 1520 m. P. serotina develops well on all soils except for the very wettest and very driest and is thus tolerant of a wide range of soil drainage aspects. In its northern reaches in may be found growing in association with Tsuga, Quercus, fraxinus, Fagus, Pinus and Acer as well as many other minor understory species.
Bark/Stem Description
The tree has smooth dark reddish brown bark with pronounced lenticels when it’s young; very similar to Birch. As it ages it separates into squarish, large black/grey plates that curve outward at the edges: lenticels are still visible on mature bark.
Flower/Leaf Bud Description
The buds of P. serotina are about 4 mm long with blunt bud scales, the scales have a pointed apex. The buds are reddish-brown in colour
Leaf Description
The leaves are simple, medium-green, 5-15 cm long, lance-shaped with an acute apex and serrated leaf margin. The leaves contain cyanogenic glycosides (more pronounced when wilted), which convert to hydrogen cyanide if eaten by animals and thus can be very toxic to livestock.
Flower Description
P. serotina unlike most other Prunus species flower after leaf emergence, while the leaves are still young but almost full-grown and reddish in colour; usually about mid-May in Southern Ontario. P. serotina flowers are perfect, solitary, white, and borne in umbel-like racemes and are pollinated by insects.
Fruit Description
The fruit is a one-seeded drupe 8-10 mm in diameter with a bony stone or pit. It is black when ripe, evolving from green through red and is usually found in clusters of 6-12 fruit per raceme.
Colour Description
The bark is grey-black, fruit is green ripening to red through to black. The leaves emerge in the spring with a red tinge turning to a shiny green and towards autumn turning yellow to orange. The flowers are white.
Texture Description
Medium texture.
Seedling production occurs naturally under the canopies of mature forest trees where seeds after a winter dormancy germinate sometimes over a three year period. Seedlings via natural seeding under the forest canopy in the forest duff are produced in great quantities. Collected seed require 3-4 months of a cold period at 1-5 °C with scarification. Seedlings need to be germinated in long pots since a tap root is produced. Limited success has been achieved with basal cuttings placed under intermittent mist (12 sec every 18 min; 24 h) on a greenhouse bench (24 °C day, 18 4°C night), success was in the 50% range but only with a 74 mM IBA dissolved in 70% ethanol. Sprouts will often grow from the stumps of harvested or fallen trees and produce large, viable replacement trees.