Wild black cherry trees grow in eastern North America, offering tasty treats for those lucky enough to harvest some. Also known as black cherry, rum cherry and mountain black cherry, the trees grow best in climates featuring cool, moist, and mild conditions with full sun. In gardens and landscapes with similar climates, black cherry trees make a great addition. The tree needs to grow for a few years before it produces fruit, but once it does, the fruit makes for great eating.
Black cherry trees feature blackish-red bark that starts out smooth when young, but gets flaky and scaly as it ages. Trees grow to heights of 80 feet and feature clusters of showy, fragrant white flowers that bloom in the spring. The drooping clusters of red fruits that follow eventually ripen into purplish-black cherries in late summer or early fall.
Black cherry trees grow in the forests of 37 U.S. states. The trees thrive from western Minnesota south to eastern Texas, and eastward to the Atlantic Ccean from Florida all the way north to Nova Scotia. A few trees also grow in central Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The trees also grow extensively in central and western Mexico.
Fruit from the black cherry tree may be eaten fresh. It is also cooked for use in making jellies, jams and preserves. Some people use it to flavor wine. The fruits also work well in pies, cobblers and other baked goods requiring small fruits. Early pioneers used the fruit to flavor run and brandy.
Uses for the Wood
The wood from the tree is very valuable thanks to its strong, close-grained, reddish-brown features. Commercial quantities are grown in the northern Allegheny Mountains. Primarily used to make cabinets and other furniture, black cherry wood also gets used in trim, veneers, and toys. The printing industry relies on the wood for mount engravings and etchings. The hard, straight grain of cherry wood also makes it ideal for use in a few scientific instruments. Extracts from the tree’s bark make wild cherry syrup cough medicine.
The seedlings and sprouts of black cherry trees, especially those growing wild in the forest, are a preferred food for deer and rabbits. Deer also eat the foliage. Black cherry offers a great food source for a variety of songbirds and upland game birds who eat the ripe cherries off the branches or from the ground. The tree also provides suitable habitat for bird nests while offering cover for birds and other small wildlife.