The largest growing cherry tree native to North America, black cherry (Prunus serotina) produces fragrant white flowers in spring followed by small, black fruits in summer. The natural range of this deciduous tree is immense, stretching from the Great Lakes southward to Central Florida. Black cherry trees grow large and wild in their habitats, sprouting up in sunny marginal places where birds have deposited the seeds.
Black cherry grows well in the northwestern half of the Sunshine State, where winters are mild but chilly. The southernmost extent of the tree's native range runs north of Interstate 4. Black cherries grow best in a deep fertile soil with at least 20 inches of annual rainfall, according to Floridata.
Trees growing across the northern half of Florida will bloom and ripen their fruits in June, according to Deane Jordan of EatTheWeeds. Expect fruits to ripen in early June near Orlando and later in June near Jacksonville, Gainesville and Pensacola.
There may be considerable abortion and drop of small, green, undeveloped fruits on the black cherry tree. Once May arrives in Florida, the fruits eventually turn red by the end of the month and ripen. They are at their sweetest, when the skin turns dark purplish black in June. According to the Western North Carolina Nature Center, ripe fruits drop off branches by July.
There can be a three-week differential in ripening fruit among trees in a single geographical area, reports David A. Marquis of the Western North Carolina Nature Center. Black cherries bloom and set fruit annually, but increased fruit production occurs in cycles every three to four years.
The twigs and foliage of black cherry are potentially harmful when eaten by humans or domesticated animals like cows and horses. Traces of cyanide are in the tree, especially noted when crushing a twig or leaf emits an almond-like fragrance. The fruit is edible, but the seed pit does contain some cyanide. For safety, remove pits before eating or cooking. Spit them out if you eat little cherries fresh off the tree.