Wild black cherry trees

Black Cherry

Introduction: Black cherry is not usually cultivated as an ornamental plant, but it seeds itself readily and often escapes into landscapes. It is a valuable forestry plant because the wood is prized for carpentry. Culture: Black cherry prefers moist, deep, fertile soils but will tolerate dry or sandy soils. It can be grown in full sun to partial shade and will tolerate both alkaline and acidic soils. It will tolerate drought and salt, but will not tolerate full shade. Black cherry has problems with the eastern tent caterpillar and the cherry scallop shell moth. Cherry leaf spot and black knot are common diseases on black cherry.

This tree’s messy fruit and weediness can be a drawback in the landscape. This tree is hardy in Zones 3 to 9. Botanical Information

  • Native habitat: Ontario to North Dakota, south to Florida and Texas.
  • Tree size: Reaches a height of 50 to 60 feet.
  • Flower and fruit: White flowers are 1/3-inch wide and are borne in 4- to 6-inch-long pendulous racemes in May. Red, 1/3-inch fruits ripen to black in August and September.
  • Leaf: Leaves are simple, alternate, 2 to 5 inches long and 1 to 13/4 inches wide. Leaves are dark green in summer and yellow to red in fall.
  • Hardiness: Winter hardy to USDA Zone 3.

Additional information: The fruit of black cherry has a bitter-sweet flavor and is used to make jelly and wine. Birds, squirrels, deer, raccoon, black bears, ruffed grouse, opossum and turkey are among the animals that eat the fruit of black cherry. The bark, leaves and twigs of this tree are poisonous to livestock, although deer can eat the leaves without harm. Wilted leaves of black cherry are more poisonous than fresh leaves.

The wood of black cherry is valuable for making furniture and cabinets. The strong, hard wood of this tree is close-grained. It is also used to make paneling, veneers, interior trim, toys and scientific instruments. In the southern Appalachian Mountains, the bark of black cherry has been used in cough medicines and sedatives. Pioneers in the Appalachians used the fruit of black cherry to flavor rum or brandy.

The national champion black cherry, located in Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is 134 feet tall with a 70-foot spread. The Kentucky state champion is 95 feet tall with an 18-foot spread and is located in Clark County. This tree was introduced into the landscape in 1629.

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Black cherry

Tree & Plant Care

The tree grows best in a slightly acid to neutral pH soil. Avoid wet sites.

Disease, pests, and problems

Black knot is a common fungal disease.
Eastern tent caterpillar commonly attacks this tree.
The tree self sows easily due to heavy fruit production. Can become weedy and aggressive.

Disease, pests, and problem resistance

Resistant to black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 1

Commonly found in drier upland sites, along fencerows and along the edges of wooded areas.

Bark color and texture

The bark is dark gray to almost black. It is scaly with upturned edges.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate leaves with finely toothed margins. Leaves are 2 to 5 inches long with small glands near the base by or on the petiole.
Leaves are dark green in summer, changing to yellow and orange in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Small, white flowers on elongated clusters. Flowers have an slightly unpleasant odor.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Small cherries held in an elongated cluster. They ripen to a purple-black color.

Good things come in small packages!
Common Name: Black Cherry, Wild Cherry, Mountain Cherry, Rum Cherry
Scientific Name: Prunus serotina
Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)
Description:
The Black Cherry Tree is a tree native to eastern and southern North America and is most widely known as a timber tree with its hard, strong, close-grained wood. However, it is commonly used for for the flavor of its small (less than 1 cm), dark purple-black berries produced on long, fragrant racemes (a shoot with dozens of flowers) that will then develop dozens of fruit. The trees have characteristic bark, smooth and horizontally striped when young and fissured and scaly when over ten years of age.
When I lived in Kentucky, we lived on the edge of a farm field. The edge was full of Black Walnut and Black Cherry Trees. One summer I went out and collected a few pounds of black cherries and made black cherry jam. I had never made preserves of any sort, and in fact this was one of my first activities in the realm of “homesteading”. The jam turned out great, and I have been a huge fan of Black Cherry Trees ever since.
Illustration of the Black Cherry by Charles Sprague Sargent
History:
Almost ignored by cultivators of fruit trees, the Black Cherry Tree has minimal written history. It was used by Native Americans as a food source (a key ingredient in pemmican, a mixture of dried fruit, fat, and meat, and eaten on trips and in winter) and as a medicinal plant used to treat a number of respiratory and gastrointestinal issues. The short storage and absence of super sweet flesh of the fresh fruit, combined with the poisonous seeds and leaves, have likely been to blame for this tree being largely overlooked by plant developers.
Trivia:

  • The oldest documented Black Cherry tree is in the U.S. and was 258 years old.
  • Black Cherry Trees are host to a large variety of caterpillars.
  • It has been very invasive in Europe where it was used as an ornamental and unique fruit tree.
  • Cherry Bounce is a liqueur of cherries steeped in brandy, rum, or whiskey, and it was a popular drink in the Colonial United States. In fact, we still have a recipe from Martha Washington, the first First Lady: “Extract the Juice of 20 pounds of well ripend Morrella Cherrys Add to this 10 quarts of Old French brandy and sweeten it with White Sugar to your taste—To 5 Gallons of this mixture add one ounce of Spice Such as Cinnamon, Cloves and Nutmegs of each an Equal quantity Slightly bruis’d and a pint and half of Cherry kernels that have been gently broken in a mortar—After the liquor has fermented let it Stand Close-Stoped for a month or Six weeks—then bottle it remembering to put a lump of Loaf Sugar into each bottle.”

Making some modern-day Cherry Bounce – they are cheating and using store bought cherries!
USING THIS PLANT
Primary Uses:

  • Timber, especially fine woodworking, furniture, and cabinetry
  • Fresh fruit – rarely! Typically the fruit is bitter and astringent (very “dry” in flavor) but can have a bit of sweetness to it
  • Jams
  • Pies
  • Liqueurs and Wines
  • Flavoring for rum, brandy, or whiskey to make “cherry bounce”
  • Flavoring for sodas and ice creams

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Food source for birds and mammals
  • Fuel (firewood)
  • Smoking wood (for flavor of smoked foods)
  • Can be coppiced
  • In the Appalachians, the bark was used as a cough remedy and sedative

Yield: Good crops occur every 1-5 years. No definitive quantities are defined.
Harvesting: Late summer/early autumn (June-October)
Storage: Fresh berries do not last long. Ideally use within a day or two after harvesting
The beautiful and fragrant racemes covered with dozens of flowers.
The leaves of the black cherry tree are glossy and lightly toothed.
DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9
Chill Requirement Required, but the number of hours is not documented (or easily found!)
Plant Type: Medium to Large Tree
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Tree
Cultivars/Varieties: Minimally improved; few cultivars available
Pollination: Self-Pollinating/Self-Fertile
Flowering: Late spring/early summer (May-July depending on where it is planted
Life Span:
Years to Begin Bearing: 10 years,
Years to Maximum Bearing: 30+ years, but decent crops can be had on 10 year old trees
Years of Useful Life: 100+ years, but some individuals can live to over twice that age
Characteristic horizontal stripes of young Black Cherry Trees
The older, more scaly bark of a mature Black Cherry Tree
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Size: 50-100 feet (15-30 meters) tall and half as wide
Roots: Shallow and spreading
Growth Rate: Fast
Beautiful orange and yellow of Black Cherry leaves in autumn.
GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates very light shade if at all
Moisture: Medium
pH: acidic to neutral soil (4.0 – 7.5)
Special Considerations for Growing:
Although minimal scientific studies, Black Cherry likely tolerates juglone (natural growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut and its relatives) as it is often seen growing in close proximity. Consider using this tree as a buffer between your walnuts and other plantings.
Propagation: By seed. Requires cold stratification for 3-4 months. Can be propagated by cuttings.
Maintenance:
Minimal.
Concerns:

  • Poisonous – Leaves and seeds contain a precursor to cyanide (large amounts need to be eaten for this to be toxic).
  • Can spread rather easily by seeds. Seeds can live for 1-3 years before germinating waiting for optimal conditions.
  • Black Cherry Trees are a natural host for the Eastern Tent Caterpillar and Cherry Scallop Shell Moth which can defoliate trees quickly. This can be deadly for young trees, but is usually rarely significant with established, older trees.
  • The fungal disease “black knot” is common, but not significantly harmful on established trees
  • Can be susceptible to wind damage, especially with its shallow roots

Chromolithograph of Cerasus serotina (older scientific name for Black Cherry, Prunus serotina) by F. de Tollenaere & P. Vervoort in Jacques douard Morren, ed.

Wild cherry is a very beautiful wild tree that is known for its wood and fruits.

Wild cherry short facts list

Name – Prunus avium
Family – Rosaceae
Type – tree

Height – 16 to 40 feet (5 to 12 meters)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – humus-rich, well drained

Foliage – deciduous
Flowering – March-April

Pruning and care take a large part in supporting its growth and blooming.

Planting wild cherry

It is recommended to plant the wild cherry tree in fall, before the first frost spells, to give it time to develop roots.

If you plant your wild cherry in winter, proceed only if it doesn’t freeze.

Just like most trees that have been purchased in pots or containers, it’s possible to wait for spring and summer to transplant it, if you avoid hot spells.

If this is the case, it will be necessary to water regularly over the first few months after planting.

  • Wild cherry loves humus-rich and well drained soil, so try to avoid emplacements that suffer from drought.
  • Wild cherry also tolerates acidic or alkaline soil (chalky).
  • It loves locations with a rather high exposure to sunlight.

Care and pruning of wild cherry

As for all the trees of the Prunus family, pruning isn’t recommended.

Thus, the only pruning that is really important is the removing of dead and weak wood.

  • Prune preferably in winter, when the tree is at rest.
  • Don’t cut anything other than dead or diseased branches.
  • Apply pruning paste for the largest branches.

Learn more about wild cherry

Also called sweet cherry or gean, this tree is native to Europe, West Asia and North Africa. The European name for it, “Merisier” comes from the latin root “Amarus cerasus” which means “bitter cherry”.

The wild cherry tree is absolutely magnificent. It prettifies the beginning of spring with abundant flowers in hues of white and pink. This period, although quite short, will turn your garden into a colorful space and announces the return of spring.

Wild cherry is more often than not cultivated for its fruits or its wood, which furniture makers appreciate.

Among the most common and known wild cherry varieties are the ‘Bigarreau’, the ‘Burlat hatif’, the ‘Coeur de Boeuf’, ‘Coeur de Pigeon’ and the ‘Guignier’ and ‘Amourette’.

Wild cherry is savored either as jam or in spirits.

Smart tip about wild cherry

Avoid places that are too exposed to wind so that the fragile blooms aren’t swept away too soon!

Plant of the Week: Wild Black Cherry

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in “Plant of the Week.” Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

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Wild Black Cherry
Latin: Prunus serotina

Of late, I’ve become an arm-chair expert on the value of early American furniture, thanks to the education provided by the appraisers on PBS’s Antiques Road Show. I personally find the simple, yet elegant designs produced in late 18th century New England cabinet shops most appealing. Much of that furniture was crafted from wild black cherry, my favorite wood for furniture building.

Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) grows everywhere in the eastern woodlands from Minnesota to Texas and is common throughout Arkansas. It’s the largest cherry, capable of reaching 100 feet with trunks as thick as 4 feet. Mostly though, we see 50- to 60-foot tall trees with oval to pyramidal forms and the tips of branches arching downward.

Black cherry leaves are 2 to 4 inches long, glossy green above and paler beneath. At the base of the leaf blade or on the petiole a prominent gland marks their membership to the cherry tree clan. Fall color is a subtle yellow to orange.

Wild black cherry leaves contain prunasin, a cyanide containing sugar molecule. It’s relatively benign unless the leaves are exposed to some kind of stress such as drought, frost or wilting. Then, prunasin breaks down and releases cyanide. Cyanide makes it impossible for cells to get oxygen from the blood, with fatal results. Cattle and horses are sometimes killed by eating wilted or frosted black cherry foliage.

Black cherry flowers are small, white, five-petaled flowers borne on finger-size panicles produced at the ends of branches. The pea-size, red-changing-to-black, berries appear in August and are sometimes used for jellies or wine making. Cherry bounce, a drink favored in the Appalachian region, was made by blending fresh squeezed juice with brandy or rum to form a fruit cordial.

By the end of the 19th century, most of the virgin wild black cherry trees were gone, and the second-growth trees were decidedly less grand. As a pioneer species, black cherries move quickly into disturbed sites and make a respectable 12-inch saw log in about 60 years.

The Warren Forestry Science lab in northwestern Pennsylvania shows an interesting 70-year photographic record of a forest block as it goes through a period of regrowth after being clearcut. The initial forest consisted mostly of beech trees when it was cut in 1927. In 1998, when the site was last evaluated, it contained almost the same number of trees but black cherries now dominated the site.

Of our forest trees, wild cherries are the most valuable, sharing comparable value only with black walnut. Stumpage prices for wild cherry logs are in the $500 to $600 per 1,000 board feet range, but in 1999 a record price was paid of over $5000 for an especially prime specimen.

To the woodworker wild cherry is a stable wood that holds glue well, doesn’t warp, finishes with a smooth surface and is generally easily worked. The heartwood is a soft red-brown that develops a beautiful patina as the wood ages. It’s one of those woods you feel the need to pet.

But as a landscape tree, the wild black cherry is second rate – no make that third rate. Being a pioneer species with lots of berries that birds love, it’s forever coming up in unwanted places in flower beds. At first I battled these seedlings, but I quickly realized that the three or four small trees on the property had to go.

Removing trees from the yard sometimes requires a bit of subterfuge, as my wife still harbors doubts I know what I’m doing when I go outside. She bought the explanation that borers had killed the trees when I shower her the holes at the base of the trunk, never making the connection between my new portable drill and the jug of weedkiller on the workbench.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist – Ornamentals
Extension News – February 13, 2004

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.

Black cherry (Prunus serotina) is the largest member of the rose family native to Iowa. It commonly attains heights of 60 feet and diameters of up to 2 feet on good sites; on less desirable sites it is often much smaller in size.

Habitat: Found throughout most of the state. Grows on moist wooded slopes and upland woods.

Hardiness: Zones 3 through 10


Black Cherry Leaves – Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

Growth Rate: Moderate to Fast

Mature Shape: Varies by species

Height: 20 to 30 feet high

Width: 15 to 25 feet wide

Site Requirements: Adaptable but prefers moist, well-drained soils. In the right conditions, it will grow like a weed. Withstands heavy pruning and prefers full sun to partial shade.

Leaves: Alternate, simple, single toothed, and oval or oblong shaped

Flowering Dates: May – June

Seed Dispersal Dates: August – September

Seed Bearing Age: 5 years

Seed Bearing Frequency: Every 1-5 years

Seed Stratification: Prechill for 4 months at 34°F to 40°F


Black Cherry Fruit – Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

Black cherry is characterized by having alternate simple leaves, 2-6 inches long, uniformly wide to lance-shaped, pointed at the tip, and with fine teeth which curve inward towards the tip of the leaf. The upper surface of the leaf is dark green and shiny; the lower surface is paler in color. The leaf has 1-2 tiny glands on the petiole near the leaf blade. The buds are 1/8 to 1/4 inch long, with 6 dark red-brown scales; the terminal bud is usually slightly larger than lateral buds. Branches are slender, smooth, pale green turning bright red to dark reddish-brown in color with age. The bark on older trees is thin, light gray to nearly black in color and scaly with upturned edges. The clusters of dark red to black fruits taste bitter, but are used for jams and wines and utilized by many species of songbirds. The leaves and inner bark, when crushed, have a bitter almond aroma caused by hydrocyanic acid. The cyanic acid in wilted twigs and leaves may be dangerous to deer and cattle when consumed in large quantities in the fall, although deer can eat the fresh green leaves without ill effect.


Black Cherry Flowers – Photos by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

Black cherry is native in all Iowa counties except Lyon and Sioux. Cherry does best on upland moist, fertile, well drained soils, but grows on a wide variety of sites and soil conditions. As site quality deteriorates, so does the size and quality of the wood produced. Cherry grows in mixed stands; its common associates include the oaks, hickories, white ash, bigtooth and quaking aspen, ironwood and choke cherry.

Black cherry is seldom used as a landscape plant. Some of its characteristics, including producing less shade than maples and oaks, showy white flowers in the spring, dark-green glossy leaves, and moderately fast growth rate, indicate that cherry should be used more in urban conditions. As an open grown tree, cherry will develop with an oval, moderately spreading crown.

Cherry is prized as a wood for furniture because of its beautiful reddish to red brown color and its attractive luster when finished. Cherry wood is moderately hard and heavy, shrinks little when dried, works moderately easy, and warps little during seasoning and use. Because of its fine characteristics, cherry wood is used for various scientific instruments, printers’ blocks, holding and shaping tools in fine crystal production, pianos and organs, handles and caskets.

Diseases that Can Affect Black Cherry

  • Black Knot

Insects that Can Affect Black Cherry

  • Pear Sawfly or Pearslug
  • Eastern Tent Caterpillar
  • Peachtree and Lesser Peachtree Borer


Black Cherry Twigs – Photos by Paul Wray, Iowa State University


Black Cherry Bark – Photos by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

How to Plant a Black Cherry Tree Farm

A black cherry tree provides a good amount of fruit that can be enjoyed by your whole family. Cherries are delicious and easy to grow, and if you want to start a cherry tree farm, planting the saplings is not difficult to achieve.

Black cherry trees belong to the Rosaceae Rose family. They are also called wild black cherry, rum, and choke cherry. The tree grows wild, especially in drained, sandy or rocky soil. Its blooms in the spring are white flowers with five petals a quarter inch in diameter. The fruit becomes available between June and October. Cherry tree wood is close to Black Walnut for furniture construction.

Step 1 – Find a Location

The first step is to find a good location for your tree farm. Make sure the area has plenty of sunlight and rich soil. Never plant new cherry trees in a location that previously contained cherry trees, as most of the soil’s essential nutrients will be gone. Also, select a site that has good drainage.

Step 2 – Plant the Trees

When planting more than one cherry tree of a standard size, place each tree between 20 and 30 feet apart. Smaller trees should be placed about 8 to 12 feet apart. Proper spacing ensures that each cherry tree receive enough sun and soil nutrients. Add mulch, leaving about ½ foot between the mulch layer and the trunk.

As the trees grow, keep an eye on them by checking soil content. The soil should be on the acidic side. You can add fertilizer in the spring before the tree blossoms.

Step 3 – Prune

Pruning is an important part of the growing process with cherry trees. You have to prune black cherry trees in order to keep them healthy and disease-free, and produce the maximum amount of fruit.

Planting a cherry farm means you will get to enjoy a full harvest of cherries every year. Keep in mind that cherry trees do not begin to produce fruit until their third growing season. When harvesting the cherries, don’t damage the part of the branch that attaches to the tree, as this may cause permanent damage.

Common pests that affect cherry trees include aphids, borers, and tent caterpillars. Some diseases include canker and leaf spot.

More Information

When planting a black cherry tree farm, keep in mind that cherry trees can grow quite large. Sometimes they can reach up to 100 feet tall. The average height is 50 feet. The tree can spread from 25-30 feet.

Cherry trees need a lot of sun, so choose a location that isn’t too shady, however the trees can take partial shade. Sunny areas promote growth of about 4 to 5 feet per year. Plant the trees in deep soil. When digging a hole, make sure you dig deep enough to accommodate the roots, removing nearby weeds and plants.

Water the plants for the first few weeks to keep the soil moist. Once the cherry trees are established, they require little maintenance.

How to Grow a Black Cherry Tree From Seeds

cherry tree flower image by Lovrencg from Fotolia.com

The black cherry tree is most famous for its delicious, purplish-black fruit, though woodworkers prize the trees for their wood’s appearance. A black cherry tree can reach a height of 60 to 90 feet, so it requires a large space if you are to grow one in your yard. Black cherry trees are best suited to grow in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 7, but grow well in both acidic and alkaline soils.

Remove cherry pits from three or four black cherries. Plant a few black cherry pits, to increase your chances of having at least one germinate and grow.

Place black cherry pits in a nest of peat moss and place this into your refrigerator. Let the seeds chill for six to eight weeks before planting.

Choose a suitable area to plant the black cherry seeds. The area should be partly sunny and large enough to accommodate several young black cherry trees, at least temporarily, should more than one or two grow.

Amend clay soil, if present. Add a 2-inch-thick layer of peat moss to the planting area. Use a rototiller or pitchfork to thoroughly incorporate the peat moss with the clay soil. This will improve the drainage abilities of the soil, which is important for the health of the black cherry trees.

Clear the planting area of grass using a rototiller or pitch fork. Grass provides unnecessary competition for the black cherry saplings, and should be removed prior to planting.

Plant the cherry pits once the risk of frost has passed. Make a hole in the soil, one per seed, twice the depth of the diameter of the cherry seed. For example: a cherry pit with a diameter of ½ inch should be planted in a 1-inch-deep hole. Space each seed 4 to 6 feet apart.

Cover each cherry seed with clean sand. Sand is an easier medium for the germinating cherry seeds to sprout up through.

Water the newly planted seeds lightly and often. Keep the soil moist. Water more deeply and less frequently once the saplings are at least 8 inches tall.

Fertilize the black cherry saplings, with an urea fertilizer, once it reaches a height of 8 to 12 inches tall. Apply the fertilizer 3 inches away from the saplings, at a rate of 1 tbsp. per foot of area the saplings inhabit.

Transplant young trees to its permanent home once the trees are two years old. When digging a sapling from the ground, sink the shovel a minimum of 5 to 6 inches, to capture the taproot.

Native Black Cherry Tree

The Black Cherry Trees of Illinois

Our ongoing series covering the native trees of the Chicago area returns this week with a closer look at the beautiful and showy black cherry tree. The black cherry tree (Prunus serotina), also known as the mountain black cherry, rum cherry, and wild black cherry, is a large deciduous tree that is found throughout the eastern half of the United States as well as areas in the American Southwest and Mexico. Black cherries are commonly used as shade trees because of their large size but their showy flower clusters and fruits make them an excellent choice for an ornamental tree as well. These trees belong to the genus Prunus which includes other fruit bearing trees such as cherries, plums, peaches, apricots, and nectarines.

There are so many different types of cherry trees that are found throughout the world in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Most cherry tree species are found in the eastern hemisphere and there are about 10 varieties of cherry trees in the western hemisphere including North and South America. Of the varieties of cherry trees found in the U.S., only a few are native to the Chicago area. For our purposes, we are going to focus mainly on the black cherry tree because it is a common and very beautiful native tree in our local area. We will also touch on other native species of cherry trees you are likely to find in the Chicago area.

In this guide, we will discuss the black cherry tree including its characteristics, its main threats from diseases and insects, and proper care tips to keep your black cherry trees strong and healthy. We will also discuss other cherry tree species that are native to the Chicago area. If you have a black cherry tree on your property and you want to ensure it is properly cared for, call our professional arborists at Hendricksen Tree Care. We are an ISA certified tree care service provider that can effectively care for your trees with regular maintenance, treatments for insects and disease, and tree pruning services.

Characteristics of Black Cherry Trees

Clusters of fruit on the Black Cherry Tree

The black cherry is a woody species of cherry tree that can grow up to 80 feet tall. They can be easily identified by several characteristics including its dark colored, broken bark, clusters of small white pedaled flowers, and pendulous groups of reddish black cherries. The main characteristics of black cherry trees are explained below in greater detail:

  • Height: Black cherry trees are among the largest of the cherry trees, generally growing to be between 50 and 80 feet tall. Other species of cherry trees such as the chokecherry can grow as tall as 25 feet and be as small as an 8-foot shrub.
  • Leaves: The leaves of most cherry tree species are slender oval-shaped leaves that come to a point at the end with very finely serrated edges. They are typically dark green during the growing season and they turn vibrant shades of yellow, orange, and red in the fall.
  • Flowers: The black cherry tree and other native cherry tree species have small, white 5-pedaled flowers that grow in elongated clusters. They appear late in the spring and give off a strong odor often described as unpleasant.
  • Fruit: One of the most distinctive characteristic of black cherry trees, and other species of cherry trees, is their fruit. The fruit on most cherry trees are edible cherries or drupes that appear in large clusters and are reddish black to purple in color. The fruit of black cherry trees appear in large drooping clusters and are typically dark red or black in color.
  • Bark: The bark of an immature black cherry tree is smooth and greenish brown in color. As the tree matures, the bark becomes dark gray or black in color and appears as large broken flakes.

Native Species of Cherry Trees in Chicagoland

As we mentioned earlier, we are focusing on the black cherry tree because it is one of the most common types of cherry trees found in the Chicago area. However, it is not the only one as the following cherry tree species are also native in our area:

The Chokecherry tree is also native to Chicagoland, IL

  • Chokecherry: The chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), also known as the bitter-berry chokecherry, Virginia bird cherry, and western chokecherry, is closely related to the black cherry tree. Unlike the black cherry tree, however, the chokecherry is very small in size. They typically appear as small 10-25 foot trees or 8 foot suckering shrubs. The flowers and leaves of the chokecherry look similar to those of the black cherry tree, but their fruits are typically purple when ripe and have a sour, bitter taste to them.
  • Pin Cherry: Pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) trees are small, fast-growing trees that have a relatively short lifespan. The can grow anywhere between 15 and 40 feet tall and they grow well in dry, sandy soil in the sun. The leaves and fruits are once again similar to those of the black cherry tree, but it differs in its bark. The bark of an immature pin cherry is reddish bronze in color and it develops red horizontal lenticels as it matures.

Natural Threats to Black Cherry Trees

Black cherry trees are always vulnerable to a number of pests and diseases that can lead to defoliation, trunk damage, and even the death of the tree. Diseases like black knot can very quickly kill an entire black cherry tree and pests like the tent caterpillar can cause it very serious harm. The following are the most common diseases and insects to look out for on your black cherry trees:

Diseases

  • Black knot on an infected cherry tree. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

    Black Knot: Black knot is a serious fungal disease that can cause damage to the branches, twigs, and fruit spurs of the black cherry tree. The infected areas of the tree will produce excess bark and wood tissues that become swellings that are light brown in color. These swellings, or galls, will continue to grow in size and eventually rupture and release its spores which will only spread the disease. As the gall enlarges, it kills the affected twigs and branches. Smaller twigs may die within a year while larger branches can last for several years before the disease eventually kills them. The tree will slowly weaken and die if the disease is not treated. Effective maintenance and pruning can help prevent black knot.

  • Cherry Leaf Spot: Cherry leaf spot is another fungal disease that mostly attacks the leaves but can also attack twigs and stems. This disease is more likely to occur in humid conditions. Leaves affected by cherry leaf spot will have dark spots with red borders on top of the leaves and a white waxy substance on the underside. The affected leaves will eventually yellow and fall off the tree prematurely, leading to noticeable defoliation. It is possible to treat trees affected by cherry leaf spot with pruning. If you do not feel comfortable pruning your tree with cherry leaf spot, you should call a professional arborist.
  • Brown Rot: Brown rot is a fungal disease that attacks the fruit, flowers, and small branches of black cherry trees. If your cherry tree has signs of blight, cankers, or rotting fruit, it is likely affected by brown rot. The affected fruit will start to shrivel quickly and will become covered by a substance that is brownish gray in color. Because of the appearance of the affected fruits, they are commonly referred to as mummified fruit. Powdery brownish gray spores will also appear on the surface of affected flower shucks and twigs. It is important for the fruit and flowers infected by brown rot to be removed from the tree with pruning while it is dormant.

Insects

  • Eastern Tent Caterpillars: Eastern tent caterpillars are one of the biggest threats to black cherry trees and can result in extensive defoliation. The eggs of the tent caterpillar are laid as an egg mass and the eggs hatch in the spring. Immediately after hatching, the caterpillars build silk webs, or tents, in the forks of the tree and spend their time feeding on the foliage before returning to the tent at night. Older caterpillars spend their days in the tents and feed at night. These caterpillars are generally black in color with a white stripe running down their backs. When the caterpillars mature, they will leave the tree to form a cocoon and come back as adult moths two weeks later to lay eggs that overwinter before hatching in the spring. Adult moths are reddish brown in color with two diagonal white stripes on each wing.
  • Black Cherry Aphids: Black cherry aphids are aphids that exclusively attack black cherry trees. These aphids are small, round black insects that feed on the sap of the tree. This can lead to stunted or deformed leaves and honeydew secretions from the aphids on the leaves and fruits. The honeydew secretions can also lead to the growth of a black fungus on the affected spots.
  • Borers: Like most tree types, black cherry trees are susceptible to infestations and damage from borers. The borers that present a threat to the black cherry tree are the Shot Hole Borer and the Peach Tree Borer. Shot Hole Borers are light brown in color with oval shaped bodies and Peach Tree Borers are skinny winged insects that are black in color with one horizontal orange stripe on its body. Borers cause serious damage in their larval stage by boring into the sap wood and interrupting the flow of nutrients. They also create tunnels in the wood that can cause the tree to weaken. When the borers mature, they emerge as adults and lay eggs in the bark of the tree. Treatment for borer infestations will depend largely on the severity of the damage.

Black Cherry Tree Care Tips

Bright white flowers of the Black Cherry Tree bloom every Spring in Chicago

Black cherry trees are beautiful additions to yards and landscapes with their showy fruit, flowers, and fall colors. Providing effective care for these trees will help preserve their beauty and help them resist insects and disease to remain healthy. Make sure you care for your black cherry trees with the following tips:

  • Planting: Black cherry trees are best planted in the fall, but they can be planted in the early spring as well after the ground has thawed. Choose an area for your cherry tree that has high exposure to sunlight. These trees can tolerate dry, acidic soil conditions so find an area that is also well drained. New plantings need to be watered regularly for the first few months.
  • Watering: Established black cherry trees need very little watering in the beginning of the season unless it has been especially hot or windy. However, they do require watering once the fruit starts to develop. Water only when the top 2-3 inches of the soil is dry, and water slowly and deeply. You should also give the tree a good, long watering in the fall before the winter.
  • Mulching: Laying down organic mulch around the drip line of the tree will help the root system better retain moisture.
  • Fertilization: Black cherry trees need fertilization early in the season to keep them healthy and help with fruit production. You should apply an organic fertilizer that contains 1/8 pound of nitrogen for every inch of the diameter of the trunk. If you aren’t sure what type of fertilizer to use for your tree, contact a professional arborist to provide fertilization.
  • Pruning: Black cherry trees benefit from pruning to help improve their appearance and their resistance against certain pests and diseases. Broken, dead, and decaying branches need to be removed to allow more sunlight to reach the interior of the tree. Once again, it is best to have a professional arborist provide tree pruning services if you don’t think you can do the job properly yourself.

Professional Tree Care for Black Cherry Trees

Consider adding the very showy Black Cherry Tree to your Chicagoland residential or corporate landscape in the Fall or Spring!

Black cherry trees are tolerant of tough conditions like dry and acidic soil, but they are also vulnerable to diseases without effective care. Fertilization and pruning can help protect black cherry trees from black knot, tent caterpillars, and other major threats. If you want to ensure that your black cherry trees remain in good health, the professional arborists of Hendricksen Tree Care are here to help.

Hendricksen Tree Care provides complete tree care and maintenance services in the Chicago area to help care for all types of trees including black cherry trees. Our tree care includes fertilization, pruning, and treatments for insect infestations and diseases. We will provide ongoing care for your trees to ensure that they get the preventative treatments and fertilization they need to stay healthy and vibrant throughout the growing season. Hendricksen Tree Care is ready to serve homes and businesses in the north and northwest Chicago suburbs including Arlington Heights, Lake Zurich, Northbrook, Highland Park, Barrington, Palatine, Libertyville, and surrounding areas in Illinois.

Stay tuned for the next edition of our series about the native trees of Chicago.

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