Black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) are medium-sized deciduous trees that reach up to 80 feet in height and a spread of up to 3 feet in width. Though not large in appearance, black cherry trees have a large array of uses, as lumber for furniture to edible uses in jams.
Black cherry trees are highly valuable in use as lumber; originally discovered for lumber use by American colonists who prized the red-brown color and luster of the wood, black cherry lumber is known for its fine texture and light pink to dark red-brown color. A hardwood, black cherry trees produce lumber used in furniture, cabinets, face veneer, boxes and toys. Black cherry wood is lightweight and strong and considered one of the most effective woods when used for cutting and shaping.
Black cherry trees bear small red/dark purple fruit during the spring season. The black cherries are used for human consumption, most often to make jellies, jams and liqueurs. Though the fruit is edible on its own, hydrocyanic acid from twigs, leaves and bark is fatal when ingested; eating black cherries directly from the tree is not advised. Black cherries are also used to make wine; the fruit of black cherry trees, also referred to as rum cherry trees, were used by settlers of Appalachia to flavor an alcoholic beverage called "cherry bounce." Black cherry trees also attract wildlife; birds and other animals rely on their ripened fruit as a food source.
The bark of black cherry trees provides a medicinal use. The fragrant inner bark is a red-brown hue and bitter in taste, according to the University of Florida IFAS Extension. When stripped from younger trees, the inner bark is used to create cough medicines, tonics and sedatives. The bark extract contains cyanogenic glycosides, starch, resin, tannin, gallic acid, fatty matter, lignin, calcium, potassium and iron salts. Black cherry bark acts as an antispasmodic (calms smooth muscle tissue) and is effective in treating coughs, asthma and slow digestion.