The fire cherry tree (Prunus pensylvanica), commonly called the pin cherry, grows throughout the northern United States and Canada. The tree received its title of "fire cherry" because of its distinctive ability to flourish in wilderness regions that have suffered a fire, which makes it valuable for reforestation, according to the North Carolina Nature Center.
The fire cherry tree has an exceptional tolerance for climate variances. The tree has extreme cold hardiness and can grow in areas that average up to 180 days of weather that falls below 32 degrees F. It tolerates a range of rainfall between 16 to 80 inches annually. Snowfall has very little affect on the tree, and it will withstand up to 100 inches of snow pack.
A relatively small tree, the fire cherry grows between 15 to 50 feet in height, depending on growth location. The tree must have full sunlight to attain high heights. Rarely, the tree may attain a height of 100 feet in the southern Appalachians. The large fire cherry tree sizes are only seen on the western side of the Great Smoky Mountains, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Each spring the tree sports clusters of white flowers. Following flowering, the tree produces clusters of five to seven bright red berries. The berries are a valuable food source for birds and mammals.
The tree produces an exceptionally shallow root system, which makes it susceptible to being blown over in a hard wind. Young trees' roots are only 14 inches below the soil's surface. When the tree reaches 25 years old its roots only sit 24 inches deep, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The tree tolerates a wide variety of soil conditions. It has been found growing on rocky outcroppings with very little soil to sustain it. However, the tree does not tolerate shady conditions. Self-fertile, the tree utilizes insects for pollination. The tree's seeds can stay viable for up to 50 to 150 years when buried in the soil, according to the Western North Carolina Nature Center. Even after being consumed by birds and excreted through feces or regurgitation, the seeds remain viable.
Growth and Life
Seedlings grow rapidly. Fruit production can begin when the tree is only 2 years old. The tree reaches full maturity at 20 years old. Fire cherry trees rarely live past 40 years. The tree's relatively short life span is usually due to its shade intolerance. Other tree species that are more shade tolerant move in and begin to grow. As they attain a higher height than the fire cherry, they begin to shade it out, resulting in its inevitable early death.