Prunus serotina, commonly called black cherry, wild black cherry, rum cherry,[3] or mountain black cherry, is a deciduous[4] woody plant species belonging to the genus Prunus. The species is widespread and common in North America and South America.[5][6][7][8]

Immature fruit
Closeup of mature bark
Closeup of immature bark

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][5]
  • Prunus serotina var. alabamensis (C. Mohr) Little -southeastern United States
  • Prunus serotina subsp. capuli (Cav. ex Spreng.) McVaugh – central + southern Mexico, Central America, South America as far south as Argentina
  • Prunus serotina subsp. eximia (Small) McVaugh – Texas
  • Prunus serotina subsp. hirsuta (Elliott) McVaugh – Georgia
  • Prunus serotina var. rufula (Wooton & Standl.) McVaugh – southwestern United States, northern + central Mexico
  • Prunus serotina subsp. serotina – Canada, United States, Mexico, Guatemala
  • Prunus serotina var. serotina – Canada, United States, Mexico, Guatemala
  • Prunus serotina subsp. virens (Wooton & Standl.) McVaugh


Black cherry is a medium-sized, fast-growing forest tree growing to a height of 50–80 feet. Leaves are 2" to 5" in length, ovate-lanceolate in shape, with finely toothed margins. Fall leaf color is yellow to red. Flowers are small, white and 5-petalled, in racemes 4" to 6" long which contain several dozen flowers. The flowers give rise to edible reddish-black "berries" (drupes).[4]

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 banded, 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.[Note 1][10]

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".[11] 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 or more. 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).

Prunus serotina was widely introduced into Western and Central Europe as an ornamental tree[12] in the mid 20th century,[13][14] where it has become locally naturalized.[12] It has acted as an invasive species there, negatively affecting forest community biodiversity and regeneration.[15][16]

Prunus serotina subsp. capuli was cultivated in Central and South America well before European contact.[17]


Autumn foliage

Like apricots and apples, the seeds of black cherries contain compounds that can be converted into cyanide, such as amygdalin.[18][19] 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.[20] In contrast, although the flesh of cherries also contains these compounds, it does not contain the enzymes needed to produce cyanide, so the flesh is safe to eat.[21]

The foliage, particularly when wilted, contains cyanogenic glycosides, which convert to hydrogen cyanide if eaten by animals.[22] 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.

Pest and Diseases

Black knot infection

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


The fruit of Prunus serotina is suitable for making jam and cherry pies,[23] 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.[citation needed]

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". High quality cherry timber is known for its strong orange hues and high price. Low-quality wood, as well as the sap wood, can be more tan. Its density when dried is around 580 kg/m3 (36 lb/cu ft).

Prunus serotina trees are sometimes planted ornamentally.

See also


  1. ^ This odor is the result of minute amounts of cyanide compounds produced and stored by the plant as a defense mechanism against herbivores. [9]


  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, New York.
  2. ^ a b The Plant List, Prunus serotina Ehrh.
  3. ^ "BSBI List 2007". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-01-25. Retrieved 2014-10-17. 
  4. ^ a b "Prunus serotina". NC State Extension. NC Cooperative Extension. Retrieved 2017-02-21. 
  5. ^ a b "Prunus serotina". Flora of North America (FNA). Missouri Botanical Garden – via eFloras.org. 
  6. ^ "Prunus serotina". County-level distribution map from the North American Plant Atlas (NAPA). Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2013. 
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Black cherry (Prunus serotina)". ISU Forestry Extension. Iowa State University. Retrieved 2018-04-02. 
  10. ^ "VT Forest Biology and Dendrology". Cnr.vt.edu. Archived from the original on 2007-09-13. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ a b C. Stace. R. van der Meijden & I. de Kort, eds. "Prunus serotina (Cherry, Rum)". Flora of NW Europe. Archived from the original on 2007-12-06. 
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ Stypiński P. 1979. Stanowiska czeremchy amerykańskiej Padus serotina (Ehrh.) Borkh. w lasach państwowych Pojezierza Mazurskiego. Rocznik dendrologiczny (in Polish). 32: 191-204.
  16. ^ Szymon Bijak; Maciej Czajkowski; £ukasz Ludwisiak (December 2014). "Wystêpowanie czeremchy amerykañskiej (Prunus serotina Ehrh.) w Lasach Pañstwowych" [Occurrence of black cherry (Prunus serotina Ehrh.) in the State Forests in Poland] (PDF). Leœne Prace Badawcze [Forest Research Papers] (in Polish). 75 (4): 359–365. doi:10.2478/frp-2014-0033. Retrieved 2018-04-02. 
  17. ^ Morton, Julia (1987). Fruits of warm climates. Miami, FL. pp. 108–109. Retrieved 15 October 2013. 
  18. ^ Poulton JE (1988). "Localization and catabolism of cyanogenic glycosides". Ciba Foundation symposium. 140: 67–91. PMID 3073063. 
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ 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. 
  21. ^ 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. 
  22. ^ "Prunus serotina Ehrh". Missouriplants.com. 
  23. ^ "Home > Recipes > black cherry pie". Cooks.com. 

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