Prunus serotina

"Black cherry" redirects here. For other uses, see Black Cherry (disambiguation).
Prunus serotina
Flowers and leaves
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Rosaceae
Genus: Prunus
Subgenus: Padus[1]
Species: P. serotina
Binomial name
Prunus serotina
Ehrh. 1784
Natural range

Prunus serotina, commonly called black cherry, wild black cherry, rum cherry,[3] or mountain black cherry, is a woody plant species belonging to the genus Prunus. The species is widespread and common in North America and South America.[4][5][6][7]

Immature fruit
Closeup of mature bark
Closeup of immature bark

A mature black cherry tree can easily be identified in a forest by its very broken, dark grey to black bark, which has the appearance of very thick, burnt cornflakes. However, for about the first decade or so of its life, the bark is thin, smooth, and striped, resembling that of a birch. It can also quickly be identified by its long, shiny leaves resembling those of a sourwood, and by an almond-like odor released when a young twig is scratched and held close to the nose.[8][9]

Black cherry is closely related to the chokecherry (Prunus virginiana); chokecherry, however, is classified as a shrub or small tree and has smaller, less glossy leaves.

Subspecies and varieties[2][4]

Ecology and cultivation

Prunus serotina is a pioneer species. In the Midwest, it is seen growing mostly in old fields with other sunlight-loving species, such as black walnut, black locust, and hackberry. Gleason and Cronquist (1991) describe P. serotina as "[f]ormerly a forest tree, now abundant as a weed-tree of roadsides, waste land, and forest-margins."[10] It is a moderately long-lived tree, with ages of up to 258 years known, though it is prone to storm damage, with branches breaking easily; any decay resulting, however, only progresses slowly. Seed production begins around 10 years of age, but does not become heavy until 30 years and continues up to 100 years. Germination rates are high, and the seeds are widely dispersed by birds who eat the fruit and then excrete them. Some seeds however may remain in the soil bank and not germinate for as long as three years. All Prunus species have hard seeds that benefit from scarification to germinate (which in nature is produced by passing through an animal's digestive tract).

Autumn foliage

P. serotina is also a host of caterpillars of various Lepidoptera (see List of Lepidoptera which feed on Prunus). The eastern tent caterpillar defoliates entire groves some springs.

Black knot infection

Prunus serotina was widely introduced into Western and Central Europe as an ornamental tree[11] in the mid 20th century,[12][13] where it has become locally naturalized.[11] It has acted as an invasive species there, negatively affecting forest community biodiversity and regeneration.[14]

Prunus serotina subsp. capuli was cultivated in Central and South America well before European contact.[15]


Like apricots and apples, the seeds of black cherries contain compounds that can be converted into cyanide, such as amygdalin.[16][17] These compounds release hydrogen cyanide when the seed is ground or minced, which releases enzymes that break down the compounds. These enzymes include amygdalin beta-glucosidase, prunasin beta-glucosidase and mandelonitrile lyase.[18] In contrast, although the flesh of cherries also contain these compounds, they do not contain the enzymes needed to produce cyanide, so the flesh is safe to eat.[19]

The foliage, particularly when wilted, contains cyanogenic glycosides, which convert to hydrogen cyanide if eaten by animals.[20] Farmers are recommended to remove any trees that fall in a field containing livestock, because the wilted leaves could poison the animals. Removal is not always practical, though, because they often grow in very large numbers on farms, taking advantage of the light brought about by mowing and grazing. Entire fencerows can be lined with this poisonous tree, making it difficult to monitor all the branches falling into the grazing area. Black cherry is a leading cause of livestock illness, and grazing animals' access to it should be limited.


The fruit of Prunus serotina is suitable for making jam and cherry pies,[21] and has some use in flavoring liqueurs; they are also a popular flavoring for sodas and ice creams. The black cherry is commonly used instead of sweet cherries (Prunus avium) to achieve a sharper taste. It is also used in cakes which include dark chocolate, such as a Black Forest gateau and as garnishes for cocktails.

The wood of Prunus serotina is also used for cooking and smoking foods, where it imparts a unique flavor.

Prunus serotina timber is valuable; perhaps the premier cabinetry timber of the U.S., traded as "cherry". It is known for its strong red color and high price. Its density when dried is around 580 kg/m3 (980 lb/cu yd).

Prunus serotina trees are sometimes planted ornamentally.

See also


  1. Rehder, A. 1940, reprinted 1977. Manual of cultivated trees and shrubs hardy in North America exclusive of the subtropical and warmer temperate regions. Macmillan publishing Co., Inc, New York.
  2. 1 2 The Plant List, Prunus serotina Ehrh.
  3. "BSBI List 2007". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-02-25. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  4. 1 2 "Prunus serotina". Flora of North America (FNA). Missouri Botanical Garden via
  5. "Prunus serotina". County-level distribution map from the North American Plant Atlas (NAPA). Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2013.
  6. Morales Quirós, J. F. 2014. Rosaceae. En: Manual de Plantas de Costa Rica. Vol. VII. B.E. Hammel, M.H. Grayum, C. Herrera & N. Zamora (eds.). Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 129: 437–463
  7. Jørgensen, P. M., M. H. Nee & S. G. Beck. (eds.) 2014. Catálogo de las plantas vasculares de Bolivia, Monographs in systematic botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 127(1–2): i–viii, 1–1744.
  8. This odor is the result of minute amounts of cyanide compounds produced and stored by the plant as a defense mechanism against herbivores.
  9. "VT Forest Biology and Dendrology". Archived from the original on 2007-09-13. Retrieved 2012-10-22.
  10. Gleason, Henry A. and Arthur Cronquist. 1991. "Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada, Second Edition." The New York Botanical Garden. Bronx, New York. 910 pp.
  11. 1 2 Flora of NW Europe: Prunus serotina
  12. Starfinger U. 1997. Introduction and naturalization of Prunus serotina in Central Europe. In: "Plant Invasions: Studies from North America and Europe" (eds by J.H. Brock, M. Wade, P.Pysek, D. Green). Backhuys Publ. Leiden: 161-171.
  13. Kalina M. Nowakowska; Aleksandra Halarewicz (2006). "Coleoptera found on neophyte Prunus serotina (Ehrh.) within forest community and open habitat" (PDF). Electronic Journal of Polish Agricultural Universities, Biology, Volume 9, Issue 1.
  14. Stypiński P. 1979. Stanowiska czeremchy amerykańskiej Padus serotina (Ehrh.) Borkh. w lasach państwowych Pojezierza Mazurskiego. Rocznik dendrologiczny. 32: 191-204.
  15. Morton, Julia (1987). Fruits of warm climates. Miami, FL. pp. 108–109. Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  16. Poulton JE (1988). "Localization and catabolism of cyanogenic glycosides". Ciba Foundation symposium. 140: 67–91. PMID 3073063.
  17. Swain E, Poulton JE (October 1994). "Utilization of Amygdalin during Seedling Development of Prunus serotina". Plant Physiology. 106 (2): 437–445. doi:10.1104/pp.106.2.437. PMC 159548Freely accessible. PMID 12232341.
  18. Yemm RS, Poulton JE (June 1986). "Isolation and characterization of multiple forms of mandelonitrile lyase from mature black cherry (Prunus serotina Ehrh.) seeds". Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics. 247 (2): 440–5. doi:10.1016/0003-9861(86)90604-1. PMID 3717954.
  19. Swain E, Li CP, Poulton JE (April 1992). "Development of the Potential for Cyanogenesis in Maturing Black Cherry (Prunus serotina Ehrh.) Fruits". Plant Physiology. 98 (4): 1423–1428. doi:10.1104/pp.98.4.1423. PMC 1080367Freely accessible. PMID 16668810.
  20. Missouriplants: Prunus serotina
  21. Cooking, Recipes, and More. Black cherry pie recipes
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