May 2004
Black Cherry
The wild tree.


Black Cherry
Journal/Detailed Facts
Julie's Trees

Facts at a Glance
Prunus serotia

Planted Date unknown,
probably sprouted here from seed

2006 Update
Height est.: 60'
Trunk: 11'4"

Mature Height: 70 to 80'
Spread: 30'
Growth rate: Fast
Form: Spreading, irregular
Flowers: Yellow-white
Fall color: Yellow
Hardiness zone: 3 - 9
Culture: Moist soil, sun, shade

Best feature:
Attracts wildlife

Worst problem:
Messy berries

Do over? No

And the Winner Is . . .

In No Hurry for the Cherries to Ripen

Cherries, June 14, 2006. Click to see larger photograph.
Cherries, Aug. 9, 2006. Click to see larger photograph.


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A Tree Grower's Diary
Black Cherry


Photographs and text by Julie Walton Shaver

Black cherry flowers are barely noticeable, May 2005

Key identifying features.. Little yellow-white cylindrical pendulums in May; dark purple to black berries in August.

Common name.. Black cherry

Scientific name.. Prunus serotia

Mature height.. 70 to 80 feet

Mature spread.. To 30 feet or wider when grown in open, sunny, moist soil locations.

Form.. Spreading, irregular crown.


Spring 2004


Mid-July 2004

Fruit.. Pale green berries begin to form as pea-size balls in late spring, born in long, hanging clusters. Ripening in late summer, the prolific berries are prized by birds and squirrels who begin to eat the fruit in early summer, while still red or purple. The fruit is not truly ripe, however, until it has turned black, usually in August. By then, it has softened and become quite juicy. Edible by humans, the taste is sweeter when ripe, but is still somewhat bitter. The seed inside the berry is prominent and easily germinates. Therefore, the tree occurs widely in nature, easily dispersed by the many mammals that eat the berries.


June 2006: This tree is his home.


This is the fork in the road on his commute home from work.


I didn't notice flowers . . .


. . . Until the petals rained down.

Flowers.. Long, cylindrical yellow-white pendulums blossom before the fruit begins to emerge, attracting bees.

Foliage.. Deciduous; medium-green shiny leaves above, paler green below turning yellow with a hint of red in fall. Leaves are alternate, simple, oblong with fine serrations along the margins.


Alternate leaves


June 2004


October 2004

Growth rate.. Fast; two or more feet a year.

Hardiness zones.. 3 through 9

Culture.. Because the seeds so easily germinate, this tree can quickly invade in lawns, borders and forests, and grows from a seedling even in underbrush. It prefers deep, moist, rich soil of varying pH levels, but will tolerate poorer soils and drought once established.

Best time to prune.. After the berries have all fallen.

Of special note.. A member of the Rose family -- along with the trees that bear almonds, apples, apricots, cherries, pears, peaches and plums; and vines that bear blackberries, roses and strawberries -- this tree attracts many mammals, as mentioned in the fruit section above, but is also home to many pests like borers, scales, tent caterpillars and aphids. The tree is not recommended for planting in lawns because the berries tend to be messy not only when they fall from the tree, but also when berries pass through the birds onto everything in their flight path. In addition, while the mature wood is very hard (often used in furniture-making), the new wood at the highest branches is soft, and is susceptible to storm damage.

Squirrel path

Julie's Comments.. This 60-foot tree and the dogwood were the only two healthy living trees on our property when we came here in 1996. (A river birch on the opposite side of the lawn was here too, but in early 1999, it succumbed to the weight of ice during a storm and broke in half. In the front yard, an old Norway maple stood next to the driveway out by the street, but every windy storm took down at least one big branch and so the Shade Tree Commission removed it in 1998.) This black cherry is not a popular tree in our little circle of neighborhood houses that are clustered close together in suburban New Jersey. While the tree is along the very back border of our property, it doesn't cause a problem in terms of berry juice being tracked into our house, but it does cause problems for our neighbors. When we first moved in, the neighbors asked if we would take the tree down, but I deferred at the time. It being the only tall tree on our property, it was our only shade-provider, giving the back yard a bit of a break in the morning hours. But now that our other trees have grown and are providing adequate shade, I concede that letting go of the black cherry would make for a happier neighborhood. Unfortunately, it is so large and hard to get to that having it cut down would break the budget.


Planting date.. Unknown; the tree probably grew from a seed brought here by a bird. It was never trained to have a central dominant trunk and splits into three leaders about five feet up from the base where the large single trunk measures nearly 12 feet around at its widest point.

DO OVER?.. No, not in a yard setting. This tree belongs in an open field or in a forest, where it won't destroy property but will provide lots of food and shelter for animals.


It's a jungle out there. The cherry is the tree in the back. You can distinguish the three leaders. (Foreground: Bradford pear, left, and sugar maple leaves.)


The tree is quite tall, and because it is on the edge of our property, neighbors have sometimes complained about its habits (falling cherries and subsequent stains).


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