Black Cherry Tree Guide: How To Grow and ID Black Cherry Trees (Wood Value)

Man planting a black cherry tree after learning how to identify black cherry wood, leaves, flowers, fruit (prunus serotina), and grow a native cherry tree.

The Black Cherry Tree (Prunus serotina) is a large, deciduous tree native cherry tree to eastern North America.1 It is one of the most widespread cherry tree species in its native growing range, easily identifiable by its dark, scaly mature bark and late summer fruits.

With its beautiful flowers, tasty fruit, attractive foliage, and high-quality wood, the black cherry is an excellent addition to landscapes and woodlands. Also called wild black cherry, rum cherry, and mountain black cherry, this beautiful tree provides food and shelter for wildlife, beautiful spring blossoms, and tasty summer fruits, and its prized, richly-colored wood is a top choice for fine woodworking and furniture-making.2

Black cherry’s adaptability to varied soils and growing conditions, combined with its rapid growth rate, make it a great choice for landscaping, wildlife habitat, and plantation forestry. By following some key steps, you can successfully grow your black cherry trees for fruit or lumber production.

This comprehensive black cherry tree guide will cover everything you need to know about identifying, growing, and caring for black cherry trees.

How Do You Start a Black Cherry Tree From Black Cherry Seeds? (Growing a Black Cherry Tree From a Seed)

Black cherry seeds require cold, moist stratification for about 3 months before sowing in the fall. Choose a site with full sun to partial shade and fertile soil. This is how to grow a cherry tree from seed.

Sow seeds 1 inch deep, water, then mulch. Establish growing a black cherry tree from a seedling following spring once established.

How To Identify Black Cherry Tree (Prunus Serotina)

There are many defining characteristics that can help you identify a black cherry tree including;

Black Cherry Bark

When trying to identify a black cherry tree, the most distinctive feature of mature trees is the bark.3 On young trunks, the bark is thin, smooth, and grayish with prominent horizontal lenticels.

As the tree matures, the bark turns darker gray and eventually a dark brownish-black with a scaly texture, often curling up on the edges.

Black Cherry Leaves

The leaves of black cherry trees are oval, alternate, 2-5 inches long, with fine teeth along the margins.1 The leaves are shiny green above with rusty hairs along the veins below.

In fall, the leaves turn yellow, orange, or red before dropping. Small glands can be found on the leaf stalks.

Crushing the leaves or twigs gives off a distinct bitter almond scent from the cyanide compounds within.

Black Cherry Flower

The flowers of black cherry trees bloom in drooping, cylindrical clusters shortly after the leaves emerge in spring.1 The showy white flowers have five petals and give off an unpleasant odor.

Graphic of Black Cherry tree identification showing Black Cherry bark, Black Cherry fruits, Black Cherry flower, Black Cherry leaves, and Black Cherry seeds images in circle frames on green background.

(Flower Image: Cbaile1917, Fruits Image: AnRo000219, Seeds Image: Rasbak20, and Bark Image: Leslie Saunders (saundelr)21)

They develop into clusters of small purple-black cherries about 1/4-1/2 inch in diameter. Each cherry contains a single hard seed.

Black cherry trees can grow quite large, up to 80 feet tall with a spread of 40 feet. They have an oval, open growth habit when grown in full sun but can be narrow when crowded.

In summary, when identifying black cherry, look for:

  • Dark gray to black scaly bark on mature trunks
  • Bitter almond scent when crushed
  • Oblong, finely toothed leaves 2 to 5″ long
  • White spring blossoms in drooping clusters
  • Dark purple to black cherry fruits in late summer

Black cherry

(Prunus serotina)

Black Cherry Tree image in an oval frame on green background.
  • Location on the ICUN Red List—Conservation Status: Least concern
  • Family: Rose family (Rosaceae)
  • Genus: Prunus
  • Leaf: Oblong leaves with finely toothed margins. Alternate leaves 2 to 5 inches long with small glands near the base or petiole. The underside has rusty-colored hairs along the midrib. Dark green in summer turning yellow and orange in fall.
  • Bark: Its young bark is shiny gray and smooth with horizontal lenticels. Mature bark is dark gray to black with flaky scales that curl up on the edges. The bark has a distinct bitter almond scent when crushed.
  • Seed: Small black cherry fruits 7-10mm in diameter borne in drooping elongated clusters. Bloom in spring after leaves emerge. Ripen late summer to purple-black.
  • Blossoms: Many small white flowers with 5 petals in drooping clusters that bloom in spring after leaves emerge.
  • Fruit: Round, dark purple to black cherry fruits 7 to 10mm across. Ripen late summer into fall. Tart flavor.
  • Native Habitat: Eastern North America from Nova Scotia to Minnesota, south to Central Texas, and east to Florida. Found in woods, along fencerows, roadsides, streambanks, and disturbed areas. Prefers moist, well-drained soils but is adaptable. Intolerant of shade and poorly drained soils.
  • Height: Grows 50 to 80 feet tall. Largest cherry species in North America, reaching up to 100 feet tall in ideal conditions.
  • Canopy: Narrow when young, widening to the oval or rounded crown at maturity. Can grow 30 to 60 feet wide.
  • Type: Deciduous
  • Native Growing Zone: USDA zones 3 to 9

Image Credit: beauty_of_nature (jhenning)16

Where Does Black Cherry Grow Natively? Wild Black Cherry Tree

Black cherry is native to a large region of eastern and central North America.4 Its native growing range stretches west from Nova Scotia to eastern Montana, south to Florida, and eastern Texas, with disjunct populations in Arizona and New Mexico.

It grows at elevations up to 5,000 feet in the southern Appalachians. This tree is also native to parts of northern Mexico and Guatemala.

Within its native habitat, black cherry frequents moist woods, along fencerows, roadsides, forest edges, and clearings and disturbed areas. It thrives best in fertile, moist, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade.

Eye-level shot of large Black Cherry trees on a grassy plain showing leaves, tiny white flowers, and large trunks with deep fissures.

(Image by: Wendy Cutler22)

While moderately drought tolerant once established, black cherry does not do well in compacted, poorly drained, or perpetually wet soils. This species can adapt to a wide variety of climates and is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9.

It grows best in moist, well-drained, acidic soils in full sun to partial shade. The best growing conditions for black cherry are found on northern and eastern slopes that are sheltered from harsh winds.

  • Soil: Prefers moist, fertile, well-drained loam but adapts to most soils with good drainage. Intolerant of poorly drained or frequently flooded soils.
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade. At least 6 hours of direct sun per day.
  • pH: Somewhat acid soils with a pH of 5.0 to 6.5 are ideal, but can tolerate a broad pH range.
  • Water: Medium water needs, requires evenly moist soils. Avoid overly wet or frequently flooded areas.
  • Temperatures: Highly cold tolerant. Can withstand late spring freezes once established.

Black Cherry Tree Growing Zones

Growing zones for black cherry tree where to grow are zones 3 through 9.1 This cold hardy species can survive frigid winter temperatures as low as -40°F once established.

In zones 3 and 4, black cherry trees are at the northern limit of their range. Growth may be slower and mature size reduced compared to warmer regions unless planted in sheltered locations.

Protect from harsh winds in cold climates. Zones 5 to 7 provide ideal growing conditions for black cherry trees.

These regions have sufficient rainfall, moderate summer temperatures, and a long enough growing season for black cherries to reach mature heights of 50 to 80 feet. In the warmer zones 8 and 9, black cherry trees grow well but may not attain the size of trees in cooler climates.

Ensure trees have adequate moisture as they are prone to drought stress in hot, dry areas. Select a site with partial afternoon shade if possible.

How To Grow Black Cherry Trees

When planting a black cherry tree, choose a site with full sun to partial afternoon shade and fertile, moist soil.5 While tolerant of many soil types, black cherry trees thrive in slightly acidic loam or silt loam soil.

Avoid planting in soggy, poorly drained sites or areas that flood. Dig a hole twice as wide and just as deep as the root ball of your tree.

Carefully remove it from the container, loosen the root ball, and place it in the hole so the top of the root ball sits level with the ground. Fill in with native soil, tamp down gently, and water thoroughly.

Apply 2-4 inches of mulch around the base, keeping it a few inches away from the trunk. For optimum growth, black cherry trees require about one inch of water per week from rain or supplemental irrigation during the first two years after planting.

After establishment, they are quite drought tolerant. Apply a general-purpose fertilizer before bud break in spring to encourage strong growth.

Low-angle shot of the crown of huge Black Cherry trees in winter showing large trunks and thin branches with no leaves.

(Image by: Nicholas_T23)

Prune black cherry trees while dormant in winter to develop a strong central leader and prevent co-dominant stems from forming. Remove any branches or suckers growing close to the ground as well.

Avoid heavy pruning that encourages excessive sprouting of new growth from the trunk and branches.

Propagating Black Cherry Trees

Black cherry trees can be propagated from seed, sprouts, or by growing a black cherry tree from a cutting.1

Here are some planting tips for black cherry tree for the best results:

  • From Seed: Collect ripe black cherries when they turn dark purple-black in late summer. Remove the fleshy pulp and rinse clean.
    Stratify seeds by placing them in moist sand and storing them at 35-45° F for 3-5 months. Sow outdoors 1⁄4 to 1⁄2-inch-deep in fall or early spring.
    Germination occurs after cold stratification.
  • From Sprouts: Black cherry sprouts vigorously from the base when young trees are cut back or damaged. Simply cut a young sapling back to the ground and let sprouts grow.
    Select the strongest sprout as the new trunk.
  • From Cuttings: Take 6 to 8-inch softwood cuttings in early summer from the tips of new shoots. Trim below a node and remove lower leaves.
    Dip in rooting hormone and place in a moist potting mix under humidity or mist system. Bottom heat also improves rooting success.

When grown from seed, black cherry can make a handsome ornamental, shade or street tree. It also produces edible fruit.

For commercial forestry plantations, black cherry is valued for its fine, highly prized lumber.

How Long It Takes To Grow Black Cherries: Black Cherry Tree Growth Rate

Black cherry trees grow relatively quickly when young, adding over 2 feet of growth per year under ideal conditions.1 Trees may reach 50 feet tall in as little as 25 years.

Growth slows as trees reach maturity, with typical mature heights of 80-100 feet at around 60 years of age.

Black Cherry Tree Pests, Diseases & Problems

Black cherry trees are relatively pest and disease-free, especially when grown in their preferred environment.1

Black Cherry tree pest, diseases & problems graphic showing Black Knot fungus, Cherry Leaf Spot Fungus, Eastern Tent caterpillar, Borer, Aphids, and Mites images in circle frames.

Potential problems include:

  • Black knot fungus:6 Causes rough black swellings on branches
  • Cherry leaf spot fungus:7 Leads to premature defoliation
  • Eastern tent caterpillar:1 Defoliates branches and limbs
  • Borers: Damage trunk and branches
  • Aphids: Cause curled, distorted leaves
  • Mites: Cause stippling or yellowing of leaves

How To Stop Black Cherry Tree Disease: Black Cherry Tree Disease Prevention

Here is how you can stop, eliminate, and prevent some of the common pests of the black cherry, diseases, and problems:

  • Black knot: Prune out infected branches.
  • Leaf spot: Improve air circulation.
  • Eastern tent caterpillar: Hand pick tents or use Bacillus thuringiensis.
  • Aphids:8 Use insecticidal soap.
  • Borers: Keep trees healthy.
  • Mites: Spray insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Providing proper care by watering needs for black cherry plants, fertilizing, pruning, and using preventive treatments as needed keeps black cherry trees healthy and productive. Speak to your local nursery or extension office for advice on treating any disease or pest issues in your area.

DIY Natural Pesticides for Black Cherry Trees: Natural Pest Control for Black Cherries

These homemade pesticide recipes can help control insects, diseases, and critters on black cherry trees:

  • Insecticidal soap: Mix 2 1/2 tablespoons dish soap with 1 gallon water. Spray on infested leaves.
  • Neem oil: Combine neem oil with water according to the label and spray on foliage or trunks to deter borers.
  • Baking soda: 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. Spray on leaves to help prevent black knots and other fungal diseases.

Black Cherry Tree Uses

Black cherry trees serve many purposes in landscapes, forests, and wood products:2

  • Ornamental Use: Lovely white spring flowers, reddish-bronze new leaves, yellow to red fall color and interesting flaky bark provide year-round visual interest.
  • Shade Tree: A large spreading crown provides cooling shade in summer and when bare in winter allows sunlight to penetrate.
  • Edible Fruit: Birds relish the cherries as a high-energy food source. Humans may eat them raw or cooked into jams, jellies, brandy, and other foods.
  • Food for Wildlife: Flowers provide nectar for pollinators while fruits nourish dozens of bird and mammal species. Twigs and foliage browse for deer.
  • Timber Source: The fine-grained, reddish-brown heartwood has high commercial value for furniture, cabinetry, veneer, and other specialty wood products.
  • Medicinal Uses: Bark tea has been used as a traditional remedy for fever, pain, cough, congestion, and other ailments.
  • Carbon Sequestration: The fast-growing black cherry is an excellent choice for maximizing carbon storage over time.

How To Use Black Cherry Wood

The reddish-brown heartwood of black cherry is a top choice for high-end cabinetry, furniture, veneers, interior trim, musical instruments, and gunstocks.1 It has a renowned luster and becomes darker with age.

The sapwood is paler and used for more utilitarian projects. Knot-free, wide boards with straight grain are most valuable.

Finding large, quality cherry logs and dimensional lumber is becoming more difficult, leading to scarcity and high prices. Black cherry lumber should be properly dried and stored to prevent sticker stain which devalues the wood.

Carefully milling the logs helps maximize the yield of clear, defect-free boards. The key to producing the most valuable cherry lumber lies in growing trees with long, straight, branch-free trunks and determining when to plant black cherry for the best yield.

Black Cherry Tree Wood Identification

The heartwood of black cherry trees is one of the most distinctive and valuable domestic hardwoods.9 It possesses a rich reddish-brown color and satiny smooth texture prized by woodworkers. Here are some key features:

  • Color ranges from pale brown sapwood to reddish-brown heartwood that darkens over time.
  • The grain is fine and uniform. Figuring is often curly or wavy.
  • The texture is smooth to the touch with a natural luster.
  • Weight is moderate to heavy, similar to hard maple.
  • Durability is excellent once fully cured. Heartwood resists decay.
  • Machining qualities are good. Easy to saw, plane, turn, sand, and finish.
  • Polishes to a high sheen and holds nails and screws firmly. Minimal shrinkage.
  • Cherry lumber with knots, flaws, or sapwood is far less valuable than clear, defect-free boards.

How To Identify Black Cherry Wood

When identifying black cherry wood, look for these characteristics:1

  • Color: Heartwood varies from light pinkish brown when fresh cut to a richer reddish brown with time. Sapwood is pale yellow-tan.
  • Grain: Grain lines are typically straight but may be wavy or curly.
  • Texture: Has a fine, uniform texture with a natural luster. Smooth to the touch.
  • Figure: Plain but sometimes exhibits beautiful curly or crotch figure.
  • Ray fleck: Small ray fleck present on quarter-sawn surfaces.
  • Scent: Fresh-cut cherry has a slightly bitter almond scent.
  • Weight: Moderately heavy and hard. Similar in density to hard maple.

Black Cherry Wood Properties

Black cherry wood possesses many desirable properties that make it suitable for high-end furniture, cabinetry, veneer, and other specialty uses:9

  • Strength: Strong and rigid. Excellent for furniture components subjected to weight loads.
  • Hardness: Relatively hard but slightly softer than maple or oak. Good resistance to dents and wear.
  • Stability: Dimensionally stable after drying with minimal tendency to warp.
  • Workability: Works easily with hand and machine tools. Good gluing properties. Polishes smoothly.
  • Durability: Heartwood has good decay resistance if kept dry. Sapwood is susceptible to insect attack.
  • Texture: Fine texture gives smooth planed surfaces. Easy to apply flawless finishes.

Black Cherry Wood Uses

Black cherry wood is used extensively for the following applications:10

  • Veneer paneling and architectural millwork where beauty is important.
  • High-end custom furniture, especially cabinets, tables, beds, and chairs.
  • Interior doors, trim moldings, and flooring.
  • Gun stocks and woodturning for bowls and other objects.
  • Musical instruments, particularly band and orchestral wind instruments.
  • Small specialty wood items like boxes, jewelry, and kitchen utensils.

How Much Is Black Cherry Tree Wood Worth?

As a premium wood species, black cherry brings high prices per board foot depending on the lumber grade, length, width, and thickness.4

Graphics of a graph of how much is black cherry tree wood worth.

On average, the price of black cherry wood in the United States sat at between $3 to $12 per board foot. Here’s a more detailed breakdown:

  • Veneer logs: $800 to $1500 per thousand board feet
  • Clear veneer boards: Up to $6 per board foot
  • Top grade lumber: $7 to 12 per board foot
  • Average quality lumber: $3 to 6 per board foot
  • Low grade: $1 to 3 per board foot

In general, larger boards that are clear, wide, long, and thick bring exponentially higher prices from woodworkers and craftsmen. Finding extensive clear boards over 10 inches wide is becoming quite rare, further increasing their value.

Black Cherry Tree Carbon Sequestration: How Much Carbon Does Black Cherry Tree Sequester?

As climate change concerns mount, more landowners are looking at planting trees to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. The fast-growing black cherry is an excellent choice for maximizing carbon storage over time.11

Here’s why black cherry makes a top carbon-storing tree:

  • Rapid growth while young. Ability to fix over 700 pounds of carbon annually.
  • At maturity, develops a large size capable of holding substantial carbon stocks.
  • Durable heartwood keeps carbon locked up for decades to centuries when made into lumber.
  • Wood products continue storing carbon beyond the life of the tree.
  • Provides fruit that feeds birds and mammals which also supports biodiversity.
  • The coppicing ability allows for perpetual carbon removal through periodic harvesting of regrowth.
  • Planting previously open areas greatly expands carbon storage potential.
  • Roots stabilize soil and prevent erosion of topsoil carbon.

With the right growing conditions and management, black cherry can optimize carbon sequestration on marginal lands while providing income from timber and other benefits. A win for both the environment and the economy.

Why Is Black Cherry Wood Expensive?

Black cherry lumber ranges from $3 to $12 per board foot, depending on grade, size, and market conditions. It commands a premium price due to the scarcity of quality boards and high demand.

Only finely figured, wide boards with few or no knots from mature trees are suitable for the most valuable end uses. Additionally, black cherry lumber is increasingly scarce, especially in wider boards, which drives the price up.

The wood develops a richer color and patina over time, making antique cherry wood even more valuable. The best lumber comes from older, open-grown trees that have grown very large and straight.

Toxicity and Poisonous Parts of Black Cherry Tree

All parts of black cherry trees except the ripe fruit contain hydrocyanic acid and are toxic if eaten.1 Leaves, bark, twigs, pits, and seeds contain cyanide-producing compounds.

Livestock have died from eating wilted black cherry leaves. The toxin is highest in young leaf shoots, seeds, and bark.

Therefore, do not allow horses or cattle to graze beneath black cherry trees. The ripe black fruits are edible and safe to eat.

However, consuming crushed seeds can release toxins. Remove the pits and do not chew the seeds.

Avoid blending unpitted cherries as this can crush the toxic seeds. Smoke from burning black cherry wood can also contain cyanide.

Take precautions to avoid inhalation of woodsmoke when processing black cherry lumber or wood. Although parts are toxic, black cherry is extremely valuable for its wood, edible fruit, and wildlife benefits when proper precautions are taken.

The attractive spring blooms and reddish fall color make this an exceptional, multi-purpose landscape tree.

Black Cherry Tree Facts

Here are some interesting facts about black cherry trees:12

  • The fruit provides important summer food for birds and mammals which distribute seeds far and wide.
  • Early American furniture makers favored black cherry wood for its durability, beauty, and ease of working.
  • Leaves and bark contain hydrocyanic acid, giving crushed parts a bitter almond smell and making them toxic if eaten.
  • The black cherry is the largest cherry tree native to North America, capable of growing over 100 feet tall.
  • Settlers made cough syrup, and tonics, and pioneers fermented black cherry juice into brandy.
  • The larvae of various butterfly species rely exclusively on black cherry as their host plant.
  • Native Americans used bark tea as a remedy for colds, fever, intestinal pain, and other ailments.

What Is the Largest Wild Black Cherry Tree?

The national champion black cherry tree, measuring 134 feet tall and nearly 70 feet spread, grows in Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.13 While trees of this size are rare, black cherry commonly reaches mature heights of 60 to 80 ft in forest settings if competition is limited.

Open-grown trees can be much wider.

Black Cherry Tree Symbolism and Folklore

The black cherry tree has been part of Native American myths and Appalachian folklore for centuries. This majestic tree has several symbolic meanings tied to its dark-colored fruits and durable, richly-hued wood.

Photo of multiple dried up trees with only branches and barks left.

(Image by: Dan Keck15)

Here are some of the beliefs and legends associated with black cherry trees:

  • The contrast between the white flowers and later black fruits symbolizes purity and loss of innocence.
  • Since cherry trees flower and produce fruit in sequence, they represent the life cycle and transitory nature of life.
  • In Japan, cherry blossoms represent the ephemeral beauty and fragility of life. Their short blooming period is celebrated during Hanami festivals.14
  • Along with other cherry tree species, the black cherry is a symbol of rebirth and spiritual awakening in many cultures.
  • Black cherries are viewed as the gates to the celestial realms and the wood was used to make wands and charms in some traditions.
  • The reddish-brown heartwood that darkens with age symbolizes wisdom, resilience, and inner growth through life experiences.

So, whether you admire it for its flowers, fruits, foliage, or timber, the black cherry tree is amazing and has inspired people with its beauty, utility, and living lessons for centuries.

Frequently Asked Questions About Black Cherry Tree

What Is the Best Companion Plant for Black Tartarian Cherry Tree?

Some suitable companion plants for black cherry include hazelnut, elderberry, American plum, chokecherry, serviceberry, Bluebeard, blueberry, blue spirea, witch hazel, arrowwood viburnum, and winterberry. Choose species with similar soil and sunlight needs.


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12Yale University. (2023). Wild Black Cherry. YALE. Retrieved November 28, 2023, from <>

13University of Kentucky. (2023). BLACK CHERRY. UKY. Retrieved November 28, 2023, from <>

14Hall, S. (2016, March 25). Viewing Cherry Blossoms: A Japanese Tradition in America. LOC. Retrieved November 28, 2023, from <>

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16Black cherry, Bird cherry, Prunus padus Photo by beauty_of_nature (jhenning). (2020, April 8) / Pixabay Content License. Cropped and added text, shape, and background elements. Pixabay. Retrieved November 21, 2023, from <>

17Prunus serotina, 2015-05-14, Riverview Park, 01 Photo by Cbaile19. (2015, May 14) / CC0 1.0 DEED | CC0 1.0 Universal. Cropped and added image, text, shape, and background elements. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved November 28, 2023, from <,_2015-05-14,_Riverview_Park,_01.jpg>

18Black Cherry Tree Identification Graphic, Leaves: Prunus serotina – Ravensberge in Potsdam 24-05-2010-076 Photo by Botaurus. (2010, May 28) / Public domain. Cropped and added image, text, shape, and background elements. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved November 28, 2023, from <>

1920140808Prunus serotina3 Photo by AnRo0002. (2014, August 8) / CC0 1.0 DEED | CC0 1.0 Universal. Cropped and added image, text, shape, and background elements. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved November 28, 2023, from <>

20Prunus serotina drupes, Amerikaanse vogelkers pitten Photo by Rasbak. (2009, October 29) / CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED | Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. Cropped and added image, text, shape, and background elements. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved November 28, 2023, from <,_Amerikaanse_vogelkers_pitten.jpg>

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22Prunus serotina, black cherry, in Dunbar Photo by Wendy Cutler. (2009, May 30) / CC BY 2.0 DEED| Attribution 2.0 Generic. Flickr. Retrieved January 15, 2024, from <>

23Splashdam Pond (5) Photo by Nicholas_T. (2014, February 2) / CC BY 2.0 DEED| Attribution 2.0 Generic. Cropped. Flickr. Retrieved January 15, 2024, from <>