The wild cherry, also called black cherry, is a deciduous tree found growing throughout most of North America. This native tree grows quickly and is found growing along roadsides and in fields where full sunlight is available. The tree seeds are spread by birds that consume the berries and release the seeds in their droppings.
The wild cherry has a crown that forms an oval shape and grows up to 80 feet tall with a spread up to 50 feet. The leaves are 2 to 5 inches long and turn yellow and red in the fall. Wild cherry trees form 4- to 6-inch long lace-like clusters of white flowers in the spring called a raceme. The flowers have a light fragrance and small dark red berries form once the bloom fades.
Wild cherry trees are hardy to grow in USDA growing zones 2 through 8. The tree grows well in most types of soils that have a neutral to slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.8 to 7.2. The tree requires full sunlight as it will not survive in shade. The growing area should have an annual rainfall of 20 to 80 inches unless supplemental water is provided.
Wild cherry trees produce wood that is used for making furniture, handles, toys and home paneling. The bark and leaves contain cyanide and used to be included in cough syrups and medicines. Cyanide is now considered toxic and even lethal in some cases, resulting in the tree no longer being used for medicinal purposes. The edible cherries are used for making wine and jelly and in some cases to flavor brandy liqueur.
Wild cherry trees are propagated by collecting ripe berries when they are filled out and firm. The seeds should be extracted from the fruit, cleaned and dried if they will not be planted immediately. A warm and cold stratification process is required for best results with sprouting new plants. Wild cherry trees can also be propagated by taking softwood stem cuttings in late spring. The stem sections should be from new growth that is beginning to firm and snaps when broken in half. Grow the cuttings in a tray filled with moist rooting medium and placed in a warm location with indirect light until roots form.
The wild cherry tree is susceptible to chewing insects such as the tent caterpillar and fall webworm. The insects do not cause prominent or permanent damage to the tree. Control an insect infestation by removing the webs and egg nests and applying an insecticide once the insects are in caterpillar stage. Wild cherry trees are not susceptible to disease but are a host plant for Ganoderma root rot. While the disease does not infect wild cherry trees, it can infect trees planted near the tree.