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Home > Resources > North Carolina Trees > Black Cherry

Black Cherry

(Prunus serotina Ehrh..)

  Black cherry, often called wild cherry, grows in all parts of the state but it grows best in the high mountains. It does not grow well on sites that are swampy or dry. Black cherry leaves are 2 to 6 inches long and 3/4 to 1 1/2 inch wide. They are narrowly oval or oblong and are pointed. Leaf edges are finely toothed with incurvate teeth. The base of the midrib is covered with rusty colored pubescence.

The white flowers bloom when the leaves are about half-grown, occurring on stems 4 to 6 inches long. As the fruit develops, the flower stalks, or racemes, gradually droop as the cherries reach full size (1/3 to 1/2 inch diameter). The cherries are dark red when they are fully developed and turn black with dark purple flesh as they ripen. They are food for wild animals and birds.

Black cherry is the largest of the native cherries of the United States -- and the only one of commercial value. The tree reaches 60 to 100 feet or more in height and I to 5 feet in diameter. Forest grown trees have long, limb-free trunks with little taper; open grown trees have short trunks with many branches and irregular spreading crowns.

The bark on the branches and trunks of young trees is thin, satiny, reddish brown, with horizontal markings made up of patches or rows of lenticels. Bark on older black cherry trees consists of small scaly plates with slightly upraised edges. (Lenticels are small openings in the bark of twigs; they usually are surrounded by rough, corky tissue.) Leaves and twigs have a very strong odor of bitter almonds. This characteristic helps to identify the cherry when it is growing with sweet birch or hop hornbearn.

The wood is reddish-brown with yellowish sapwood. It is moderately heavy, hard, strong, and fine-grained. Black cherry is valuable for its lustre and color and is used for furniture, interior finish, tools and tool handles. With the exception of black walnut, cherry lumber is more valuable than any other tree of the eastern United States.
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