Black Cherry

Black Cherry Prunus serotinaBlack cherry (Prunus serotina) is the largest member of the rose family native to Iowa. It commonly attains heights of 60 feet and diameters of up to 2 feet on good sites; on less desirable sites it is often much smaller in size.

Habitat: Found throughout most of the state. Grows on moist wooded slopes and upland woods.

Hardiness: Zones 3 through 10 

black cherry leaves
Black Cherry Leaves - Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

Growth Rate: Moderate to Fast

Mature Shape: Varies by species

Height: 20 to 30 feet high

Width: 15 to 25 feet wide

Site Requirements: Adaptable but prefers moist, well-drained soils. In the right conditions, it will grow like a weed. Withstands heavy pruning and prefers full sun to partial shade.

Leaves: Alternate, simple, single toothed, and oval or oblong shaped

Flowering Dates: May - June

Seed Dispersal Dates: August - September

Seed Bearing Age: 5 years

Seed Bearing Frequency: Every 1-5 years

Seed Stratification: Prechill for 4 months at 34°F to 40°F

red and black black cherry berries
Black Cherry Fruit - Photo by Paul Wray, Iowa State University

Black cherry is characterized by having alternate simple leaves, 2-6 inches long, uniformly wide to lance-shaped, pointed at the tip, and with fine teeth which curve inward towards the tip of the leaf. The upper surface of the leaf is dark green and shiny; the lower surface is paler in color. The leaf has 1-2 tiny glands on the petiole near the leaf blade. The buds are 1/8 to 1/4 inch long, with 6 dark red-brown scales; the terminal bud is usually slightly larger than lateral buds. Branches are slender, smooth, pale green turning bright red to dark reddish-brown in color with age. The bark on older trees is thin, light gray to nearly black in color and scaly with upturned edges. The clusters of dark red to black fruits taste bitter, but are used for jams and wines and utilized by many species of songbirds. The leaves and inner bark, when crushed, have a bitter almond aroma caused by hydrocyanic acid. The cyanic acid in wilted twigs and leaves may be dangerous to deer and cattle when consumed in large quantities in the fall, although deer can eat the fresh green leaves without ill effect.

white black cherry flowers
Black Cherry Flowers - Photos by Paul Wray, Iowa State University 

Black cherry is native in all Iowa counties except Lyon and Sioux. Cherry does best on upland moist, fertile, well drained soils, but grows on a wide variety of sites and soil conditions. As site quality deteriorates, so does the size and quality of the wood produced. Cherry grows in mixed stands; its common associates include the oaks, hickories, white ash, bigtooth and quaking aspen, ironwood and choke cherry.

Black cherry is seldom used as a landscape plant. Some of its characteristics, including producing less shade than maples and oaks, showy white flowers in the spring, dark-green glossy leaves, and moderately fast growth rate, indicate that cherry should be used more in urban conditions. As an open grown tree, cherry will develop with an oval, moderately spreading crown. 

Cherry is prized as a wood for furniture because of its beautiful reddish to red brown color and its attractive luster when finished. Cherry wood is moderately hard and heavy, shrinks little when dried, works moderately easy, and warps little during seasoning and use. Because of its fine characteristics, cherry wood is used for various scientific instruments, printers' blocks, holding and shaping tools in fine crystal production, pianos and organs, handles and caskets.

Diseases that Can Affect Black Cherry

Insects that Can Affect Black Cherry

two examples of black cherry twigs and buds - dark bark with light spots
Black Cherry Twigs - Photos by Paul Wray, Iowa State University



three examples of black cherry bark - small twigs have light spots on the dark bark and trunks have flaky bark
Black Cherry Bark - Photos by Paul Wray, Iowa State University