A Brief Introduction To The Black Cherry Tree

When the subject is cherry trees, the black cherry tree - Prunus serotina - doesn't often come to mind. Many, if not most people living west of the Mississippi may never have heard of the tree, and most have likely never seen a black cherry tree. The black cherry tree primarily grows in the eastern part of the United States and Southeastern Canada. It is also found in parts of Mexico and Central America. It grows mostly as a wild tree, but it is also grown as a shade tree, and as an ornamental. It is seldom grown just for its fruit.

Very Large And Very Beautiful

This particular species of cherry tree is nevertheless of significant interest, even if half of the country isn't all that familiar with it. It is the largest of the North American cherry trees, and when in bloom, is considered by many to be the most beautiful cherry tree of all, and for that matter, possibly the most beautiful fruit tree of all. Since the black cherry can attain a height of 60 feet, and sometimes more, and features a relatively wide spread, it can a quite stunning as a landscape or specimen tree when it is in bloom. When the tree is relatively young, its bark is quite smooth and attractive, resembling that of a birch tree. As the tree matures however, the bark becomes quite broken, and turns nearly black in color.

Bitter – Sweet - Or What?

Because of its size, picking fruit from a black cherry tress could be a formidable task, which is one reason it is not commercially grown for its fruit. The real reason however may be that while black cherries are tasty, they usually are no match in terms of flavor for of the cherries we find in the marketplace. The black cherry is somewhat sweet, but its taste also has been described as being anywhere from slightly bitter to relatively tasteless. Some consider the fruit to be practically inedible when it is freshly picked from the tree. In any event, black cherries are not nearly as tasty as the varieties of cherries grown in orchards and sold at roadside stands. Black cherries are used to make jams and jellies, and if one wishes, they can be used to make a potent liquor. One of the notable features of the fruit is the large size of its seed or pit. Not only is the pit larger than is found in most other cherries, but it tends to germinate more easily. Consequently, the black cherry is in some locations considered to be an invasive plant. Sprouts grow from the fruit seeds dropped by the tree, as well as taking root in places where birds or squirrels have carried the fruit. As beautiful as the tree is, its large size when grown, and its tendency to spread to surrounding areas, makes it a poor candidate for a small residential lot.

A Prized Wood For Cabinetry

Because of its invasive features, the black cherry was once widespread among the hardwood forests of the eastern part of the country. Logging and development have significantly reduced its numbers, but because of its large size, fairly rapid growth, and the desirability of its wood, the tree is still logged today for its timber. The wood of the black cherry is highly prized by furniture makers. It is in fact, regarded by many as being the premier cabinetry timber growing in this country. It is a very easy wood to work with, as it sands, turns, and stains beautifully. It is a favored wood in the manufacture of gun stocks, as well as in the manufacture of several musical instruments. When exposed to sunlight, the heartwood slowly darkens to an almost mahogany brown. For this reason, black cherry wood does not always need to be stained. The wood needs to be dried slowly, or is apt to warp, but when dried correctly it becomes very stable. Black cherry is a very strong wood, although it is not a hard as some other hardwoods, such as maple, which is sometimes stained to resemble black cherry when a harder surface is required.

Positives And Negatives

The black cherry tree has many positive things going for it, as well as a number of negative things going against it. The fruit, as previously mentioned, is considered by some to be sweet and tasty, and by others to be bitter and almost inedible. Its wood is praised by cabinetmakers, yet is a poor choice for exterior projects, possibly because of its tendency to warp unless it has been slowly and completely dried. The black cherry is a stunning ornamental tree, yet it is unpopular in many places because of its invasive properties. It also emits cyanide gas when its branches or twigs are broken. For this reason the tree, especially in shrub form, is highly undesirable in locations where cattle graze, as the twigs can be lethal to cattle if ingested. Our relationship with the black cherry tree is in some respects, a love-hate relationship.