Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Prunus serotina
SPECIES: Prunus serotina
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Uchytil, Ronald J. 1991. Prunus serotina. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
SCS PLANT CODE :
COMMON NAMES :
wild black cherry
mountain black cherry
The currently accepted scientific name of black cherry is Prunus
serotina Ehrh. . Recognized varieties found in the United States
and Canada include:
Prunus serotina var. serotina, black cherry
Prunus serotina var. alabamensis (Mohr) Little, Alabama black cherry
Prunus serotina var. exima (Small) Little, escarpment black cherry
Prunus serotina var. rufula (Woot. & Standl) McVaugh, southwestern black cherry
Prunus serotina Ehrh. var. virens (Woot. & Standl.) McVaugh, black cherry
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Prunus serotina
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
Black cherry grows in eastern North America from western Minnesota south
to eastern Texas, and eastward to the Atlantic from central Florida to
Nova Scotia . Outlying populations grow in central Texas; in the
mountains of western Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona; and south in Mexico
to Guatemala . The varieties are distributed as follows :
typical black cherry (var. serotina) - from Nova Scotia west to
central Minnesota, south to east Texas, and east to central Florida.
Alabama black cherry (var. alabamensis) - from eastern Georgia west to
northeastern Alabama, and south to northwestern Florida. Also local
in South Carolina and North Carolina.
escarpment cherry (var. exima) - found in the Edwards Plateau region
of central Texas.
southwestern black cherry (var. rufula) - in the mountains from
western Texas to central Arizona, and south to northern and central
FRES10 White - red - jack pine
FRES11 Spruce - fir
FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood
FRES18 Maple - beech - birch
FRES19 Aspen - birch
FRES32 Texas savanna
AL AZ AR CT DE FL GA IL IN IA
KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO
NE NH NJ NM NY NC OH OK PA RI
SC TN TX VT VA WV WI NB NS ON
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
7 Lower Basin and Range
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K062 Mesquite - live oak savanna
K081 Oak savanna
K084 Cross Timbers
K086 Juniper - oak savanna
K087 Mesquite - oak savanna
K089 Black Belt
K097 Southeastern spruce - fir forest
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K101 Elm - ash forest
K102 Beech - maple forest
K103 Mixed mesophytic forest
K104 Appalacian oak forest
K106 Northern hardwoods
K109 Transition between K104 and K106
K110 Northeastern oak - pine forest
K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
K115 Sand pine scrub
K116 Subtropical pine forest
SAF COVER TYPES :
14 Northern pin oak
17 Pin cherry
19 Gray birch - red maple
20 White pine - northern red oak - red maple
21 Eastern white pine
22 White pine - hemlock
23 Eastern hemlock
25 Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch
27 Sugar maple
28 Black cherry - maple
31 Red spruce - sugar maple - beech
34 Red spruce - Fraser fir
40 Post oak - blackjack oak
42 Bur oak
43 Bear oak
44 Chestnut oak
45 Pitch pine
51 White pine - chestnut oak
52 White oak - black oak - northern red oak
55 Northern red oak
59 Yellow-poplar - white oak - northern red oak
60 Beech - sugar maple
64 Sassafras - persimmon
66 Ashe juniper - redberry (Pinchot) juniper
70 Longleaf pine
82 Loblolly pine - hardwood
83 Longleaf pine - slash pine
85 Slash pine - hardwood
108 Red maple
110 Black oak
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
Black cherry occurs as scattered individuals in numerous forest types of
the East (see SAF cover types listed). It is codominant in only one
cover type, the black cherry-maple type (SAF 28) found in the Allegheny
Plateau and Allegheny Mountain sections of New York, Pennsylvania,
Maryland, and West Virginia . In this type, black cherry is a
primary component along with red maple (Acer rubrum), sugar maple (A.
saccharum), and white ash (Fraxinus americana). Other common associates
include American beech (Fagus grandifolia), eastern hemlock (Tsuga
canadensis), sweet birch (Betula lenta), yellow birch (B.
alleghaniensis), yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), cucumbertree
(Magnolia acuminata), oak (Quercus spp.), and hickory (Carya spp.)
SPECIES: Prunus serotina
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE :
Black cherry is an important commercial tree. The rich reddish-brown
wood is strong, hard, and close-grained. It works well and finishes
smoothly, making it one of the most valued cabinet and furniture woods
in North America . Black cherry wood is also used for paneling,
interior trim, veneers, handles, crafts, toys, and scientific
instruments [17,58]. Black cherry's commercial range, where large
numbers of high-quality trees are found, is restricted to the Allegheny
Plateau of Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia .
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
Black cherry leaves, twigs, bark, and seeds are poisonous to livestock.
They contain a cyanogenic glycoside which breaks down during digestion
into hydrocyanic acid . Most livestock poisoning apparently comes
from eating wilted leaves, which contain more of the toxin than fresh
leaves do. One author speculated that more livestock are killed from
eating black cherry than from any other plant . White-tailed deer
eat the leaves and twigs without harm, and browse small to moderate
amounts of seedlings and saplings .
Black cherry fruits are important mast for numerous species of birds and
mammals. Numerous songbirds feed on black cherries as they migrate
south in the fall. Passerine birds that make considerable use of black
cherry fruits include the American robin, brown thrasher, mockingbird,
eastern bluebird, European starling, gray catbird, blue jay, willow
flycatcher, northern cardinal, common crow, and waxwings, thrushes,
woodpeckers, grackles, grosbeaks, sparrows, and vireos [42,43]. Black
cherries are also important in the summer and fall diets of the ruffed
grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, wild turkey, northern bobwhite, and greater
and lesser prairie chicken [33,39,58]. The red fox, raccoon, opossum,
and squirrels and rabbits also eat the fruit . Black cherries have
been described as a favorite food of black bears .
Black cherry is moderately palatable to white-tailed deer; they prefer
sugar maple, white ash, yellow birch, yellow-poplar, and pin cherry
(Prunus pensylvanica) [37,54].
The fruits are highly palatable to song birds, upland game birds, and
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
The twigs of black cherry seedlings and saplings are high in protein.
In Pennsylvania, the protein content of twig sections in mid-April was
about 24 percent for the bud, 15 percent for the terminal 1 inch (2.5
cm) section, and 13 percent the terminal 1 to 2 inch section (2.5-5 cm)
COVER VALUE :
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
Black cherry is used for surface mine spoil reclamation in the East.
Best results are obtained by planting 1-year-old or older nursery grown
seedlings. Direct seeding has generally been unsuccessful. In
Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma, 30-year-old plantings at 9 sites
averaged 22 percent survival, 5.2 inches d.b.h. (13 cm), and 36 feet (11
m) in height .
Methods for collecting, extracting, cleaning, storing, and sowing black
cherry seed to produce nursery grown seedlings are available [21,59].
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
Black cherry bark was used historically in the Appalachians as a cough
remedy, tonic, and sedative. The fruit was also used to flavor rum and
brandy. Pitted fruits are edible, and are eaten raw and used in wine
and jelly .
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Silviculture: Black cherry regenerates best under even-aged
silvicultural treatments [39,40,41]. Clearcutting is generally used
where advanced regeneration is abundant. Shelterwood cuts are used
where seedlings are scarce and provide good conditions for establishment
from soil-stored seed. Soil scarification following cutting is not
Animal damage: Following timber harvest, black cherry seedlings
generally suffer less browsing damage by deer than associated hardwoods
because they are less palatable . However, black cherry stocking
can be reduced or completely eliminated where deer populations are high.
In some instances, successful regeneration can only be assured where
advanced seedlings are so abundant that deer cannot eat them all .
Nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer applications 2 years after harvest
cause black cherry seedlings to quickly outgrow the reach of deer .
Competing vegetation: Competing herbaceous vegetation, such as bracken
fern (Pteridium aquilinum), hayscented fern (Dennstaedtia
punctilobula), whorled wood aster (Aster accuminatus), flat-topped aster
(A. umbellatus), goldenrod (Solidigo rugosa), and wild oatgrass
(Danthonia compressa), are often favored by shelterwood cuts. These
species inhibit black cherry seed germination and seedling growth
through allelopathy [16,27]. They are effectively controlled with
herbicides which also kill black cherry seedlings. However, black
cherry seed in the soil is not affected by herbicide treatments, and new
seedlings establish after spraying .
Control: Black cherry under 3 feet (0.9 m) tall is susceptible to
2,4,5-T, but slightly more tolerant of 2,4-D. Basal bark treatments
with these herbicides kill trees over 10 feet (3 m) tall . Black
cherry is killed by soil treatments of Bromacil, Fenuron, Karbutilate,
and Picloram .
Insects and Diseases: The most serious defoliating insects affecting
black cherry are the eastern tent caterpillar and the cherry scallop
shell moth. Infestations of these insects are sporadically heavy and
cause growth loss and occasional mortality. Numerous borers and beetles
cause gum defects but are seldom fatal. Black knot, a fungal disease
which causes elongated rough black swellings much larger than the stem,
is common in black cherry. In Pennsylvania, Cytospora leucostoma causes
a canker disease resulting in widespread branch mortality. Numerous
root and butt rotting fungi have been reported in black cherry; however,
decay generally spreads more slowly in cherry than associated trees.
See Marquis  for a complete discussion of insects and diseases of
Wind damage: Because it is shallow-rooted and has a tendency to overtop
its associates in mixed stands, black cherry is susceptible to windthrow
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Prunus serotina
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
Black cherry is a deciduous, single-stemmed, medium- to large-sized
tree. In the forest it typically has a large, straight, branch-free
bole with a narrow crown, but in openings it tends to have a shorter
trunk and a broad, irregular crown . In the East, typical black
cherry (var. serotina) may reach 125 feet (38 m) in height and 4 feet
(1.2 m) or more in diameter . Southwestern varieties are typically
much smaller. Southwestern black cherry (var. rufula) seldom grows
taller than 30 feet (9 m), and escarpment black cherry (var. exima)
taller than 50 feet (15 m) .
Black cherry has a shallow and spreading root system. Most roots occur
within 24 inches (61 cm) of the soil surface . Bark on young stems
is thin, smooth, and reddish-brown to nearly black. On large trunks the
bark is fissured and scaly but remains thin [20,23]. Black cherry has
simple, 2- to 6-inch-long, thick and leathery leaves . White
flowers occur in 3- to 4-inch-long, oblong-cylindric racemes at the end
of leafy twigs of the season . The fruit is a nearly globular,
one-seeded, purplish-black to black, 0.5 inch (1.2 cm) diameter drupe
[11,20]. The seed is an oblong-ovoid stone about 0.33 inch (0.75 cm)
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Seed production: In natural stands maximum seed production occurs on
30- to 100-year-old trees. Some seed is produced almost every year,
with good crops produced at 1- to 5-year intervals . In
Pennsylvania, large seed crops occur about every other year . There
are about 4,800 cleaned seeds per pound (10,560/kg) .
Dispersal: Seeds are dispersed by gravity, birds, and mammals. The
fruits fall shortly after ripening in late summer or fall. Seeds not
dispersed by animals generally land near the parent tree. Thus the
abundance of seedlings in the understory is related to the number and
distribution of seed trees in the overstory. Because of animal
dispersal, however, black cherry seedlings are often abundant in stands
with no or few seed-producing black cherry trees [1,15,29,41,51].
Germination tests show that black cherry seeds that pass through the
digestive tracts of passerine birds successfully germinate after proper
cold stratification, and have higher germination rates than undigested
Seed quality: Usually over 90 percent of seeds are sound [8,59].
Dormancy and germination: Black cherry seeds require cold
stratification to germinate. This occurs as seeds overwinter on the
forest floor . Black cherry exhibits delayed germination: seeds
from one crop germinate over a period of 3 years. Of seed artificially
sown and buried 1 inch below the soil surface in a northern hardwood
stand in Pennsylvania, 22, 42, and 4 percent germinated the first,
second, and third year, respectively . In another germination
study, 10, 50, and 25 percent germinated 1, 2, and 3 years after burial,
respectively . Delayed germination allows black cherry to bank
large amounts of seed in the forest floor. There are typically hundreds
of thousands of black cherry seeds stored in the soil of black
cherry-maple stands in Pennsylvania in any given year . Each spring
about one-half of these germinate.
Black cherry's moisture and light requirements for germination are not
as exacting as those of its associates . However, moist seedbeds
ensure good germination. Seeds germinate in loose soil and forest
litter, but germination is somewhat higher in litter than mineral soil
Seedling growth and survival: Seedlings typically grow to a height of 2
to 4 inches (5-10 cm) 30 days after germination. In dense shade, they
grow very slowly, sometimes reaching 6 inches (15 cm) in height in 3 or
4 years, but die thereafter unless released . An understory of tiny
black cherry seedlings is common in numerous mixed deciduous forests.
If the canopy is opened due to windthrow, harvest, or other disturbance,
the seedlings survive well and grow rapidly in full sunlight .
Vegetative reproduction: Black cherry sprouts vigorously from the stump
following cutting or fire [32,55]. Sprouting frequency of stumps
remains high, probably over 90 percent, for trees up to about 60 years
of age .
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
Black cherry occurs in numerous mesic woods and second-growth hardwood
forests in the eastern United States and Canada. It is also common in
old fields and along fence rows. It grows on a variety of soil types,
textures, and drainages but is most abundant on mesic sites . Black
cherry attains its greatest abundance on the Allegheny Plateau, where it
is found on nearly all soil types. In this region it grows somewhat
better on middle and lower slopes of eastern and northern exposures than
on the dry soils associated with south- or west-facing slopes .
This mesophytic tendency becomes even more pronounced farther south. In
the southern Appalachians, black cherry generally grows as scattered
individuals with other mesophytic hardwoods and occasionally forms pure
stands at high elevations . In the Great Smoky Mountains, black
cherry is best represented in cove forests below 5,500 feet (1,676 m)
. In southern Wisconsin, understory black cherry is a conspicuous
component of xeric oak forests and savannas .
In the southwestern United States, black cherry is confined to canyons,
valleys, and rich bottomlands [5,57].
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Black cherry is a seral, shade-intolerant, gap-phase species . It
rarely occurs in the canopy of late successional deciduous forests but
buried seed and seedlings are often present in the understory.
Seedlings may survive in the understory for about 5 years but then die
or die-back to the stem base unless released [5,39]. Seedlings that die
are soon replaced because of the abundance of buried seed. Any
disturbance which opens the canopy will release this bank of suppressed
seedlings. Once released, young black cherry grow rapidly and quickly
fill the gap, overtopping shade-tolerant associates.
Because of its abundant soil-stored seeds and prolific sprouting
ability, black cherry dominates secondary succession following logging,
fire, or wind-throw . The Society of American Forester's black
cherry - maple cover type (SAF 28) is a second-growth or intermediate
successional stage created by widespread clearcutting at the turn of the
century. This type is successional to beech-hemlock-sugar maple .
In bur and white oak (Quercus macrocarpa, Q. alba) woodlands in southern
Wisconsin, black cherry accounts for about one-half of the total number
of seedlings and saplings but is largely absent from the overstory.
Under the shade of the oaks, black cherry saplings repeatedly die-back
to the stem base and resprout. Black cherry can persist, by maintaining
a small aboveground size, for 40 to 60 years until released [4,5].
Long-distance seed dispersal by birds is important in the establishment
of black cherry along fence rows and into forest openings, old fields,
and pine plantations [2,51].
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
Black cherry flowers in the spring when the leaves are one-half to fully
expanded. Fruits develop over the spring and summer and ripen by early
to late summer depending on latitude and climate. The fruits fall soon
after ripening. Fruit maturation may vary by as much as 3 weeks on
trees in the same stand . Generalized timing of phenological events
vary regionally as follows [8,39,46,50]:
Northeast Southeast Southwest
Flowering late May-early June March-April
Fruits Ripe late Aug-September June June-August
Seedfall late Aug-October June-early July
SPECIES: Prunus serotina
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS :
Black cherry is very susceptible to fire injury but typically resprouts
from the root crown or stump .
Considerable amounts of black cherry seed are stored in the soil .
The seed's stony endocarp and the soil provide some insulation from fire
. Although not documented, some soil-stored seeds presumably
survive at least light fires and contribute to postfire seedling
Birds and animals may distribute some seed into burned areas. However,
as a means of postfire recovery, this is probably of minor importance.
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex
SPECIES: Prunus serotina
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Black cherry's thin bark (about 0.2 inches [5 cm]) has poor insulating
properties . When the boles of black cherry trees were heated with
a propane torch, the cambium reached lethal temperatures faster than any
other eastern hardwood tested. The thin bark makes trees highly
susceptible to girdling, and black cherry is usually killed or
top-killed by fires of moderate severity. Trees larger than about 4 to
6 inches in diameter, however, may survive light surface fires
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
The effects of fire on black cherry vary depending on fire severity and
stem diameter. A large percentage of seedlings and saplings are
generally top-killed by low-severity fires, but larger individuals may
be unaffected. As fire severity increases, the percentage of tree-sized
individuals killed also increases.
An April prescribed fire in a south-central Wisconsin bur and white oak
savanna killed only 2 out of 141 black cherry seedlings and saplings.
The others either resprouted, suffered only partial scarring, or were
unharmed. The percentage of foliage killed was inversely related to
stem diameter. Nearly all seedlings were top-killed, but only a small
percentage of plants 4 inches (10 cm) d.b.h. were affected. In general,
black cherry was more susceptible to fire damage than either species of
Low-intensity prescribed surface fires (mean flame length > 1 foot [0.3
m], mean rate of spread of 10.8 feet [3.3 m] per minute) in a
30-year-old mixed hardwood stand in central Wisconsin top-killed 67 to
100 percent of saplings less than 4 inches (10 cm) d.b.h., but did not
top-kill any black cherry greater than 4 inches (10 cm) d.b.h. One year
after the fire, seedling density was reduced by about 35 percent, from
11,400 to 7,500 per acre (28,250-18,500/ha) .
Following a wildfire in south-central New York, 12 percent of 4 inch (10
cm) d.b.h. and smaller black cherry in old fields were killed. The rest
were top-killed and later sprouted .
In longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) stands in Alabama, two summer
prescribed burns spaced 2 years apart killed small black cherry less
than 1 inch d.b.h. These plants sprouted after the first fire but not
after the second .
Following an early spring, low-intensity prescribed fire in a young
black oak (Quercus velutina)-black cherry forest in Connecticut, about
15 percent of 1- to 4-inch-diameter black cherry were top-killed. No
4- to 6-inch-diameter trees were affected .
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
Black cherry typically sprouts when aboveground portions are killed by
fire. It is generally considered a prolific sprouter. Each top-killed
individual produces several sprouts that grow rapidly.
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
In 4- to 6-year-old northern Alabama clearcuts, black cherry saplings
and coppice sprouts regenerated quickly following top-killing broadcast
burns. Three to four years after burning, the density and frequency of
stems greater than 4.5 feet (1.4 m) tall was about equal to preburn
In North Carolina, 1-inch-diameter (2.5 cm) black cherry that were
top-killed following a winter prescribed fire quickly sprouted,
producing an average of eight sprouts per stump. Black cherry sprouts
grew faster than all other hardwood sprouts on the study area. The
average height of the tallest black cherry sprout on each stump was 5.8
feet (1.7 m) 1 year after burning .
In oldfields in New York, black cherry seedlings top-killed by fire
averaged 4.4 sprouts per stump .
In south-central Wisconsin oak savanna, black cherry seedlings and
saplings top-killed by fire had 1 to 16 sprouts per stump. In general,
black cherry's sprouting response was vigorous, producing larger and
more numerous sprouts than than black, white, or bur oak .
The Research Project Summary Effects of surface fires in a mixed red and
eastern white pine stand in Michigan and the Research Paper by Bowles and
others 2007 provide information on prescribed fire and postfire response of
several plant species, including black cherry, that was not available when
this species review was written.
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Black cherry does not require scarified seedbeds. Controlled burning
following timber harvest is not necessary for black cherry regeneration
Black cherry sprouts prolifically following fire. However, this
depletes its underground carbohydrate reserves and leaves it in a
weakened condition. A second fire within a year or two would probably
kill any seedlings and saplings that survived the first fire by
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