Pin Cherry Tree Guide: How To Identify & Grow Pin Cherry Fruit (Pioneer Species)

Man holding his head out of his blue car while driving down a road flanked with Pin Cherry tree, the pioneer species (aka bird cherry tree, wild red cherry tree, fire cherry tree), and wondering how to identify and how to grow pin cherries.

Known by a few other names, in a few other places, a Pin Cherry Tree is a huge benefit to the planet. Why? Because they are one of many pioneer species.

Learning how to identify and grow Pin Cherry fruit can help you cultivate and support this important tree.1

Its bark has unique striations, and the fruits are firm favorites of birds and squirrels.

But what’s amazing about this Cherry Tree is its capacity to be the first tree to regrow in a zone that has been devastated by fire.

This feature has gained it the nickname, the Pioneer Cherry Tree, but for most foresters, it is commonly referred to as the Fire Cherry Tree.

This guide provides all the information you’ll need to cultivate and grow a Pin Cherry tree, as well as how to recognize and identify these bountiful plants in their native habitats.

Pin Cherry Tree, Bird Cherry Tree, Wild Red Cherry Tree, Fire Cherry Tree

(Prunus pensylvanica)

Pin Cherry Tree blossom in oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Rosaceae
  • Genus: Prunus
  • Leaf: The green, flat leaves narrow to a point and are about 10 cm long
  • Bark: The dark-reddish color is marked by short orange slits. And the bark peels away occasionally along those gouges which are called lenticels
  • Seed: A small brown seed, only one per fruit
  • Blossoms: From late March to early July
  • Fruit: Small, red, and quite sour. Mainly used to make preserves
  • Native Habitat: Canada and North America
  • Height: Up to 50 feet, but averages 30 feet
  • Canopy: 18 to 25 feet
  • Type: Deciduous
  • Native Growing Zone: Prefers a cooler climate, moist soil, and full sun
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


The Fire Cherry Tree (Pioneer Cherry Tree)

Forest fires have been razing large swathes of trees to the ground for millions of years.

Whether starting from the effects of drought, human interaction, or natural ignition sources such as lightning strikes, the carnage left behind when the flames are finally extinguished and the smoke clears, is a shocking sight to see.

Where once there were acres and acres of green, flourishing trees in their prime, what is left instead is a scorched Earth with burned-out shells of trees stripped of the slightest trace of vegetation.

It would be safe to assume that under these situations, nothing would be able to grow ever again in soil that has been scorched to such a harsh degree. In North America, there have been more large, uncontrolled wildfires in recent years that have severely impacted the livelihood of local farmers and ranchers than ever before.

But nature always finds a way to regenerate the land and scientists call this rebirth episode “ecological succession”.2

Closeup of Pin Cherry Tree showing flower buds and flowers with white petals and yellow anthers.

(Image: Halava12)

After a blaze, the first plants to grow on the new, scorched earth are wildflowers and weeds, quickly followed by pioneer trees.

The Pin Cherry Tree is classed as one of these pioneers, daring to set down roots in the soil after a wildfire catastrophe that has left the ground depleted of its natural nutrients and moisture content. Amazingly, these conditions are some of the best-growing conditions for Pin Cherry Tree.

The revitalization of the land from this Fire Tree begins with its dormant seeds which have either survived the devastating flames or have been previously carried into the zone by some types of birds. One by one they begin to germinate.

They have many advantages over other trees that enable them to flourish under these extreme circumstances, such as:

  • The seeds germinate very quickly even in what is considered as bad soil.
  • The seeds become established quickly and the tree grows at a phenomenal rate to start the healing process for the land, and to reforest the area.
  • Being able to thrive under these harsh conditions, the Pin Cherry Tree matures very quickly, dispersing even more seeds as it grows.
  • This seed dispersal accelerates the colonization of more of the Pioneer Trees and helps in the regeneration process of an area that at first sight would appear beyond repair
  • The tiny fruits attract many birds back into the area who feast on them voraciously, hence the other name of the Bird Cherry Tree.
  • Their frequent presence further encourages seed dispersal and regrowth, yet the trees can remain buried and dormant and viable from 50 to 100 years, ready for the next wildfire.

The Pin Cherry Tree (Prunus pensylvanica): Pin Cherry Tree Facts (Pin Cherry Tree Seeds)

A consequence of the Pin Cherry Tree growing quickly and in areas devastated by natural disasters and revitalizing the land has resulted in the tree having a somewhat shortened life span.

In fact, the seeds that lay dormant for 100 years far outlive the tree that they were originally dispersed from by a ratio of 2 to 1.

  • The seeds are definitely the secret weapon of the Pin Cherry Tree. It is their ability to survive in such harsh conditions for lengthy periods of time and then to grow in inhospitable soil, that enables the tree to grow where few others are unable to.
  • They will remain dormant until a ray of light breaks through the charred earth to bring them back to life. And then they grow fast, a feature that aids enormously in reforestation endeavors.3
  • In terms of height, it can grow up to a foot a year and will reach maturity in about 8 years, and its height will be determined by its environment.
  • If the soil is moist, nutrient-dense, well-draining and there is full sun, heights of 30 are attainable. Otherwise, it can only grow to 10 feet or even remain just as a shrub.
  • But it is this same growth spurt that shortens the lifespan of the tree so it rarely lives beyond 30 years, with weakened branches frequently breaking off.
  • The lumber also suffers from this rapid-growing feature, making it far too weak for commercialization.
  • When it dies off, its parts enrich the soil with new organic material, making it more amenable for other types of trees that are not as hardy.
  • Even the shallow root system is crucial to the rejuvenation process. It helps to break up the compacted dirt below ground and is constantly being shed, decomposing and reenergizing the soil with fresh material.
    The roots’ ability to absorb runoff water and maintain soil is crucial for halting soil erosion in previously disturbed areas whether after wildfires or other natural disasters.
  • All parts of a tree are eaten by birds, bears, grouse, and small mammals, so it also plays an important role in the animal world.

How To Identify Pin Cherry Tree (Guide)

The Northern United States and Southern Canada are home to woodlands full of wild Pin Cherries, and these two countries make excellent growing zones for Pin Cherry Tree.4

Where to grow and how tall they grow will largely depend on the quality of the soil and how much sunlight does pin cherry tree need each day.

Pin Cherry Tree identification chart showing full grown Pin Cherry Tree with average height, Pin Cherry Tree leaves, Pin Cherry Tree flowers, Pin Cherry Tree fruits, and Pin Cherry Tree bark images along with their respective short descriptions.

Secluded forests are not the only places where they grow.

You can spy them growing in open areas or even at the side of the road as long as they are not overshadowed by other trees or buildings and they are easily recognizable.

Pin Cherry Tree Growing Zone

Soil composition is not the be-all or end-all for this plant as it can flourish in a wide range of soil conditions as long as it won’t become waterlogged.

The reddish brown trunk grows straight and isn’t very wide, but it’s strong enough to support the full head of leaves that lie flat on the crown.

The watering needs for Pin Cherry Tree plants are not very demanding so if you see a small, narrow tree standing off to one side all by itself with a cluster of red berries and white flowers, odds are it’s a Pin Cherry Tree.

Graphics showing the Pin Cherry Tree growth rate and stages from Pin Cherry Tree seedling stage, Pin Cherry Tree young sapling stage, Pin Cherry Tree adolescent stage, Pin Cherry Tree maturing stage, and Pin Cherry Tree mature stage.

And if you see a tree standing tall after a major event like a fire, that’s also a dead giveaway.

Pin Cherry Tree Growth Rate

Its speedy rate of growth is one of its most identifiable features, not that it shoots up overnight, but it matures quickly and can attain its full height, whether it’s 8 feet or 30 feet, fairly quickly.

Pin Cherry Tree Leaves (Cherry Leaf)

As they mature, the leaves become a darker shade of green on one side and slightly lighter on the other. They have a simple, alternate structure and grow up to 5 inches in length with finely serrated margins.

As the fall approaches, the green makes way for a golden yellow that then becomes red before they finally take their leave of the branches and drift towards the ground.

Pin Cherry Tree Flower

The white and fragrant flowers form in clusters in the spring. They are small and delicate with 5 petals and a bright yellow stamen in the center.

While Choke Cherry and Black Cherries develop racemes, Pin Cherry flowers grow singly on their own stems directly from the branch.

The trees then use the pollen to create little red cherries that ripen around the middle of July and the middle of August.5

Pin Cherries (Bird Cherries)

The fruit of these plants is a touch too sour to eat straight from the plant, plus they are quite small at only 5mm in diameter.

Closeup of Pin Cherry tree showing small and round fruits and green leaves attached to brown stems.

(Image: Ayotte, Gilles13)

If there are any left after the birds have swooped in, the fruits do make wonderful jellies, jams, and baked treats.

How To Grow a Cherry Tree From Seed Indoors (Grow Pin Cherry Fruit)

Researching how to grow a cherry tree from seed, a few planting tips for Pin Cherry Tree and how far apart to plant Pin Cherry Tree outside can help to ensure that you get the best quality and biggest yield of cherries possible on a regular basis for your efforts.

If you live in one of the colder parts of the United States, starting from an indoor setting will probably be the easiest and most controlled method as long as you follow a few simple steps.

Keep in mind, however, that not all Cherry Trees can be grown from seed.

It’s possible that the cherry you grow from a seed won’t have the same flavor as the cherry you planted and carefully harvested.

  1. To begin, gather some fresh cherries and remove the pits.
    After washing, the seeds should be dried for several days in a warm, dry location away from direct sunlight.
  2. Wrap the dried seeds in a damp paper towel or insert them into a potting mixture such as sphagnum moss, and then store them in a plastic bag or a glass jar
  3. Refrigerate or place the container in a cold space for about three months. Regularly inspect the seeds weekly after a couple of months for signs of fresh growth and pull any that have sprouted.
  4. When the three months are over, take the seeds out that have sprouted shoots, and sow them in a damp potting mix. Avoid overpopulation in the container by leaving a few inches of space between each seed so they have room to grow.
  5. Choose a location indoors with indirect light such as a south-facing window. Monitor them regularly to ensure that the soil does not dry out and keep the ambient temperature around 42.8°F.
  6. In around two weeks, you should see the first seedlings poking up through the earth, and this is a sign that they are nearly ready for their own individual pot house. This should wait, however, until after they have developed a couple of leaves.
  7. Take seedlings outside in the spring to “harden them off”. This stage involves gradually exposing them to the elements for a week in a spot with the partial sun in the morning or at least dappled shade.6
    Once seedlings have become accustomed to their new outdoor environment, they can be moved into direct sunlight as there will no longer be any danger of a shock to the system from a sudden change of harsh direct sunlight

Outdoor Cherry Tree Germination Instructions

Sow cherry seeds outside in the fall if you live in a colder climate, as an alternative to starting seeds indoors.

But remember to protect your cleaned and dried seeds from squirrels and other digging animals by planting them in a sand-based mixture or they will be gone in no time.

Pin Cherry Tree bush showing white flowers and growing beside a wooden fence along with other plants.

(Image: Matt Lavin14)

As they are starting life in more of a natural environment compared to a controlled one indoors, keep the seeds open to the weather and the sun so they can become accustomed quicker.

At all stages as the seedlings begin to grow, protect them either by a ringed fence or by netting, or even a tree warp to keep them safe from the local wildlife.

Pin Cherry Tree Disease Prevention (Pin Cherry Tree Guide)

One of the drawbacks of growing a Pin Cherry Tree from a cutting, a seed, or growing a Pin Cherry Tree from a seedling, is that the tree is susceptible to diseases.

Infections such as black knot, and silver leaf can ruin a perfectly healthy tree by decimating the leaves and interfering with the tree’s ability to produce cherries. But they’re not the only ones to watch out for.

Black Knot (Dibotryon morbosum)

Symptoms of black knots include the development of dark knots or swellings that can appear anywhere on the tree. If the illness is allowed to progress unchecked it will spread to other parts of the tree, growing in size from 1 to 6 inches in diameter.

Often hidden by a green fungus, infected branches will wilt and stop producing leaves.

The spores are so invasive that in as little as six hours they can infect new plants where they will harden and threaten the entire health of the tree.

As a treatment, cut back the limb by about three to four inches after it has stopped growing. All of the pruning tools must be sterilized to prevent re-infection after each cut.

Destroy or bury all diseased materials as a precaution to prevent the spores from spreading to healthy trees.

Brown Rot (Monilinia fructicola)

The leaves of infected branches become brown, appear very unhealthy, and fall off, yet the branches themselves remain unharmed.

Visible signs are the powdery masses of brown-gray spores that can be seen everywhere, on the fruits,7 flowers, and twigs when the weather turns damp.

The cause of the infection is down to the damp conditions that create a breeding ground for these particular spores. The fungus infects the flowers and, if they do not fall away quickly, the branch itself will become infected.

Cankers will begin to form on the twigs and spread the fungus from limb to limb.

Pin Cherry Trees infected with brown rot cannot be saved. Amputating the diseased limbs is the only option.

After severing the limb, immediately remove it from the area, remembering to clean the pruning shears after each and every cut.

The infected parts of the plant should be destroyed by fire or buried, and not left lying around or re-infection will occur quickly.

Silver Leaf (Chondrostereum purpureum)

Silver sheen on damaged leaves is the first unwelcome sign of silver leaf and the exact number of leaves affected differs between trees.

Closeup of a tree species showing trunk bark infected with Silver Leaf Fungus disease.

(Image: jensu15)

This symptom is not consistent and can slide under the radar unnoticed. Sometimes the silvery leaves will get brown spots or perhaps die completely, and other times the symptoms will fade away and may not show up again until the following year.

Whatever you do, don’t assume your Pin Cherry Tree has fully recovered just because the symptoms have subsided.

If you spot a brown stain or purple or brown conks with white edges beneath any of the leaves of affected branches, the infection either hasn’t faded completely or a re-infection has occurred.

Vigilance is the key, especially during the autumn when there is a lot of moisture in the air.

To treat, cut back any branches where you have symptoms or conks on the leaves. Remove any conks or discolored bark by cutting the branch back at least 4 inches. The health and fruit production of your Cherry Tree will change for the worse if the silver leaf is present.

Infected trees should be pruned when the weather is dry and the temperature is below 32 degrees.

Circle the trees that look sickly so you can easily identify them. If the symptoms don’t return the next year, you’ll know to give that tree extra attention.

Provide enough water for the infected trees, roughly 10 gallons of water for each inch of the tree’s diameter as the fungus restricts water transportation in the branches.

There are currently no effective fungicides to treat this condition.

A wary eye needs to be kept on the lookout for powdery mildew, necrotic ringspot, and cytospora canker as they can be just as harmful.8

Prevention: How To Stop Pin Cherry Tree Disease

One of the most effective methods of preventing diseases from infecting your plants is to ensure that there is proper ventilation and there are no areas that remain warm and damp for any length of time as these become breeding grounds.

Maintaining a healthy Pin Cherry tree is important so it has the strength to ward off any form of infection.

Silver leaf, for example, can be contained by performing preventative pruning as soon as the infection is noticed. It’s important to prune in dry weather if you must do so during the growing season to reduce the possibility of unwittingly spreading the infection yourself.

Common Pests of the Pin Cherry Tree and the Natural Pest Control for Pin Cherry Tree

A Pin Cherry Tree is classed as low maintenance, yet a lot of work has to go into guarding it against the constant threat of invasion from pests that want to do it harm for their own selfish reasons.

No part of the tree is safe, and to help you protect your fast-growing yet slow-fruiting prize, here’s a small list of the enemies of the Cherry Tree that you have to be able to recognize before they chew it to the ground.

Graphics of common pests of the Pin Cherry Tree showing Black Cherry Aphid, Cherry Slugs, Fruit Tree Leaf Roller, Japanese Beetle, Pacific Flatheaded Borer, Shothole-Borer, Spider Mites, Spotted Wing Drosophila, Thrips, and Western Cherry Fruit Fly.

Common PestDamage Caused
Black Cherry AphidThey target the very sap of the leaves themselves resulting in the stunted growth of the entire tree
Cherry SlugsSlow crawlers with a never-ending appetite. If allowed to roam free for too long your leaves will end up as bare stalks
Fruit Tree Leaf RollerThe Cherry Tree leaves are just the first target for adults. The females then lay eggs in the fruit, causing the cherries to spoil
Japanese BeetlesRuthless insects that feed on the flesh between the veins of Cherry Tree leaves as if there’s no tomorrow
Pacific Flathead BorerInfestations that are particularly bad will end in the death of your tree. They bore their way inside the tree and girdle it, preventing nutrients from reaching beyond that point
Shot-Hole Borer9When the borers’ eggs hatch into larvae, they feed on the wood itself, as opposed to the plant juices or foliage like many other pests. They bore into the tree, obstructing the passage of vital nutrients and water.
The leaves and branches will eventually wilt and become brown
Spider MitesWith hundreds of them feeding on the very chlorophyll that makes the leaves green, the tree weakens quickly. Eventually, the leaves and the fruit will wither and fall off
Spotted Wing DrosophilaA severe threat to Cherry Trees, this tiny fruit fly feeds on both damaged and overripe fruit
ThripsThey consume the juice from fruits and flowers, literally sucking the life out of them. Infected spots discolor initially to reveal their presence, and then the fruits and flowers die back
Western Cherry Fruit FlyCherry Trees can be severely impacted by the presence of larvae throughout the entire fruiting season if the larvae hatch inside the fruit. Entire crops become contaminated

Pin Cherry Tree: Supporting this Pioneer Species

The status of the Pin Cherry Tree for being the pioneer when it comes to reinvigorating a disaster zone is well deserved.

In a small space of time, seeds that can survive in a scorched earth environment can poke through charred earth and not only start a new tree life but also attract a wide range of birds, small animals, and fauna back to breathe life into an area wrecked by a natural disaster.

Understanding that the Pin Cherry Tree is a pioneer species may help you decide to plant and care for this tree in your own backyard.10

Frequently Asked Questions About Pin Cherry Trees

Is Growing a Pin Cherry Tree From a Seed Possible?

Can you grow Cherries from pits is an often-asked question. The short answer is yes, you can grow cherries from seeds, but it’s more typical to buy and plant Pin Cherry Trees as seedlings.

What Is the Best Season When To Plant Pin Cherry Tree for the Best Yield?

For experienced gardeners, the fall is the best time to plant as the roots will have enough time over the winter months to secure themselves firmly in the soil so a harvest would be possible for the coming season.

Why Is It Called the Bird Cherry Tree?

This nickname for the Pin Cherry Tree is due to the way birds are constantly drawn to these bite-sized cherries. So often do they visit the tree that the fruits have become a crucial component of their regular diet.

Do You Have To Dry Cherry Seeds Before Planting?

Yes, Pin Cherry Tree fruits do need to be dried before planting.

What Do I Need To Know About How Long It Takes To Grow Pin Cherry Tree?

It can take 3 to 8 years for the tree to reach maturity.

Are All Cherries Edible?

No. An example of a non edible Cherry Tree is the Weeping Cherry Tree whose cherries are so sour that they will bring tears to your eyes.

Why Have Companion Plants for Growing Pin Cherry Tree?

Companion plants are those that benefit other plants by,11 for example, luring in insects that are useful to the garden, warding off unwanted critters, or supplying nutrients, shade, or support for your primary plant.


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6BLOGS.IFAS. (2017, July 19). Q: What is the real difference between partial shade and partial sun? UF/IFAS Blogs. Retrieved July 5, 2023, from <>

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8Grabowski, M., & Kanner, C. A. (2018). Cytospora canker | UMN Extension. University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved July 5, 2023, from <>

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12Prunus pensylvanica florescence Photo by Halava / Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0). Resized and Changed Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved July 5, 2023, from <>

13Prunus pensylvanica Photo by Ayotte, Gilles / Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0). Resized and Changed Format. Université Laval. Retrieved July 5, 2023, from <>

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15104595374 Photo by jensu / CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication. Resized and Changed Format. iNaturalist. Retrieved July 5, 2023, from <>