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Plant Description


Prunus serotina Ehrh.

En: wild black cherry, black cherry, rum cherry
Fr: cerisier tardif, cerisier d'automne
Oj: ookwemizh

Rosaceae (Rose Family)



General: A tall, deciduous, shrub or tree, 20–30 m tall. Bark grayish-brown to blackish; smooth, with prominent horizontal lenticels when young; darker and scaly when mature, the edges of the scaly plates curling. Twigs grayish to reddish-brown, with a disagreeable bitter almond taste and smell when crushed. Buds reddish brown, ovoid, pointed (acute), leaf scars small, semicircular, with 3 bundle trace scars.

Leaves: Alternate, simple, pinnately-veined, petiolate. The leaf stalk (petiole) bears minute glands near the blade. Leaf blades are lanceolate to ovate or oval, 3.5–15 cm long, dark green and lustrous above, paler beneath, smooth (glabrous) except for tufts of rusty brown hairs situated on either side of the lower midrib; base tapering (cuneate); apex sharply pointed (acuminate), margins are finely toothed (serrate), with blunt teeth.

Flowers: Bisexual, arranged in an elongate terminal raceme, 6–14 cm long, flowers stalked, the stalks (pedicels) 3–10 mm long. Calyx forming a cup-shape hypanthium, with 5 narrow-triangular, pointed (acute), green lobes, usually with entire margins; persistent in fruit; petals 5, white, rounded, to 4 mm long; stamens usually 20; pistil 1. Flowering in spring.

Fruit: A red to purplish-black cherry (drupe), globose, 7–10 mm diameter, with sweet, edible, purplish-black flesh and a stony, globose pit (endocarp). Fruit matures in late summer.

Habitat and Range: Open woodlands, dry, disturbed areas, roadsides. Wild black cherry is found throughout southern and eastern Ontario, but rarely extends into northern Ontario, except as a planted tree.

Internet Images: The Prunus serotina webpage from the Trees of Wisconsin website. Click on the smaller images to view larger, more detailed photos.

The Prunus serotina webpage from the Virginia Tech Dendrology website.

The Prunus serotina webpage from the USDA Silvics of North America website.

Similar Species: The only other cherry with flowers arranged in racemes and native to Ontario is Prunus virginiana, the choke cherry. This species has obovate leaves with fine slender teeth, a deciduous calyx, and calyx lobes that are broadly triangular and glandular. The only other cherry native to northern Ontario is Prunus pensylvanica, the pin cherry, which has lanceolate leaves and flowers borne in umbellate clusters.

Compare the Prunus virginiana (choke cherry) and Prunus pensylvanica (pin cherry) webpages from the Trees of Wisconsin website.

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