A tall tree native to North America, black cherry has many ornamental features: brown scaly bark, fragrant white flowers and gold to red fall foliage. The tiny cherries that form from the fruits are eaten by wildlife and not of a good size for us to easily pick and eat. However, large amounts of black cherry fruits are usually made into preserves, or as a flavoring for liquor.
A member of the rose family, Rosaceae, the black cherry's botanical name is Prunus serotina. Since the rose family is so large, it has many subfamilies. Black cherry belongs to the plum group, Amygdaloideae, making it a close relative to not only sour and sweet cherries, but plums, peaches and apricots, too.
Black cherry is the largest cherry tree species native to North America. The range extends from southeastern Ontario and New Brunswick in Canada across the United States to Minnesota, eastern Texas and northern Florida. There are some localized natural variations of black cherry, including the southwestern black cherry and chapulin black cherry that are native to Texas, Arizona and Mexico.
Reaching a mature height of 50 to 65 feet and a canopy spread of 20 to 30 feet, this tree is fast-growing and attains an upright oval shape. New leaves in spring are shiny bronze and mature to deep green, then turn reddish yellow in autumn. In April or May cluster of tiny white flowers are pollinated by insects, later resulting in huge numbers of small, 1/3-inch cherry fruits that are red to black. These fruits are eaten by many species of wildlife, and the seeds therein readily sprout across the landscape.
Grow black cherry in full to partial sun exposures, receiving five to 10 hours of direct sun daily, in a non-alkaline soil. The well-draining soil should not flood after rains, but rather remain consistently moist. It is winter hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 though 8, although frosty areas of Zone 9 are OK. A cool winter dormancy is needed to ensure flowering the following spring.
This tree's ability to produce thousands of fruits and their seeds' ability to germinate well causes many to regard the black cherry as a messy and weedy tree. The dropping fruits and leaf litter make sidewalks and streets messy. If wildlife is not desired in the garden avoid a black cherry, as both song and game birds will visit the tree, as will squirrels and deer for food.