Prunus serotina Ehrh. - Black Cherry

Prunus serotina plant

Family - Rosaceae

Stems - Tree to 30m tall with a diameter of +/-70cm. Bark silvery when young, becoming dark maroon to deep brown, scaly when young, fissured and blocky when mature. Branches reddish-brown. Twigs pungent when bruised or cut. New season's growth glabrous, green to reddish. Previous season's growth gray-brown with round to oval lenticels and black punctate dots.

Prunus serotina twigTwig.

Prunus serotina barkBark of young tree.

Leaves - Alternate, petiolate. Petioles to +/-1.5cm long, glabrous. Blades to +10cm long, +4cm broad, deep shiny-green above, light-green below, serrulate, elliptic to oblong-elliptic, acute to abruptly short-acuminate, typically glabrous or with a few floccose hairs in the axils of the veins abaxially, pungent when crushed.

Prunus serotina leaves

Inflorescence - Terminal racemes on the new season's growth. Racemes to +10cm long, +/-2cm broad. Rachis glabrous to sparse pilose, green. Pedicels glabrous, 3-6mm long, green. Flowers +/-40 per inflorescence.

Prunus serotina inflorescence

Flowers - Petals 5, white, spreading, clawed, 3-4mm long (total), borne at the rim of the hypanthium, distinct. The blade cupped, glabrous, orbicular, entire to slightly erose on the margins, +/-3mm broad. Claw 1mm long, glabrous. Stamens -20, of varying lengths, borne at the rim of the hypanthium, exserted. Filaments green-translucent, to 3mm long, glabrous. Anthers yellow, 1mm long, -1mm broad. Style 1. glabrous, green, +/-2mm long, thick. Stigma captiate. Ovary superior, green to purplish, ovoid, +1mm long, 1mm in diameter, glabrous internally and externally, unilocular, with 1 ovule. Hypanthium green, campanulate to cupulate, glabrous, 2-3mm long, +/-2mm in diameter. Sepals 5, small, +/-1mm long, .7mm broad at the base, narrow-triangular, often somewhat pectinate on the margins, erect, glabrous. Fruits globose, to 1cm in diameter, dark-red to purple-black, sweet to bitter in flavor.

Prunus serotina hypanthiumHypanthium.

Prunus serotina flower

Flowering - April - May.

Habitat - Low or upland woods, along streams, thickets, fence rows.

Origin - Native to U.S. and Canada.

Other info. - This species can be found throughout Missouri and is quite common. The plant can be identified by its deep green, serrulate leaves which have a pungent odor when crushed. The odor is caused by the glycoside prunasin, which (upon ingestion) converts to hydrocyanic acid. This acid make the leaves poisonous to any grazing animals.
The wood of Black Cherry is one the more sought after woods for furniture making. In the past two decades the use of Black Cherry in all types of furniture has exploded and the majority of the big logs are cut from the northeastern United States. The wood is is tight-grained and easy to work yet hard enough to take everyday abuse. The heartwood ages to a deep red color while the sapwood stays a whitsh-yellow color.
Natives used the inner bark in a tea for coughs, fever, colds, diarrhea, pnuemonia, and to purify the blood. The small fruits were also eaten.

Photographs taken off Hwy 82, Bullock County, AL., 3-18-06.


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