The black cherry tree is a native deciduous plant to North America and is the largest of the wild cherries. It is prized for its wood, which has been used by carpenters and cabinet makers since colonial times. The tree is also an important source of food for wildlife. Black cherry trees are commonly found growing along riverbanks and in bottom lands, where wetter conditions occur.
The leaves of the black cherry tree are between 4 and 8 inches in length and 2 to 4 inches across, oblong or oval in shape, shiny and finely toothed along the edges. Dark green in color for the growing season, the leaves change in fall, displaying shades of yellow, orange and red. The plant displays clusters of little white flowers in spring that are showy and fragrant. The bark is thin and reddish brown with a surface that is relatively smooth. The wood of the tree is finely grained, light and reddish in color. The fruit is round, purple, fleshy and about 1/2 inch in diameter, forming in loose clusters.
This tree grows well in hardiness zones 3b to 9a. It is a relatively fast growing plant and can increase in size by more than 2 feet per year. Black cherry causes significant leaf and fruit litter, which can stain. It is best not to plant a black cherry tree near a concrete drive, walkways or wooden decks. The plant propagates primarily by birds spreading the seeds of the plant.
Growing to 90 feet tall and up to 50 feet wide, black cherry trees are roughly oval in form with an irregular outline. The crown of the tree is fairly dense. Black cherry usually develops from one leader trunk with upright branches. The lower branches tend to droop toward the ground.
Black cherry trees grow well in full sun, but they can tolerate light shade. They prefer soils that are well-draining and loose. The soil makeup can range from clay to sandy loam and acidic to alkaline. Black cherry has a high drought tolerance and moderate salt tolerance, although it prefers wetter environments. Propagation is usually by seeds or cuttings.
The tree is an important food source for many types of birds and small mammals, which eat the fruit as it ripens. The fruit can be used to make jams, jellies and liqueurs. The inner bark is an ingredient in a type of cough syrup. The wood is used for cabinetry, interior finish work and fine furniture.
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