Prunus serotina

Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: black cherry
Type: Tree
Family: Rosaceae
Native Range: North America
Zone: 3 to 9
Height: 50.00 to 80.00 feet
Spread: 30.00 to 60.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Shade Tree, Flowering Tree
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Leaf: Good Fall
Attracts: Birds
Fruit: Showy


Easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Best in moist, fertile loams in full sun. Young trees develop a long tap root which makes transplanting difficult.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Black cherry, wild cherry or wild rum cherry is native to eastern North America, Mexico and Central America. In Missouri, it typically occurs in both lowland and upland woods and along streams throughout the state (Steyermark). It is one of the largest of the cherries, typically growing to 50-80’ (less frequently to 100’) tall with a narrow-columnar to rounded crown. It is perhaps most noted for its profuse spring bloom, attractive summer foliage and fall color. Fragrant white flowers in slender pendulous clusters (racemes to 6” long) appear with the foliage in spring (late April-May). Flowers are followed by drooping clusters of small red cherries (to 3/8” diameter) that ripen in late summer to dark purple-black. Fruits are bitter and inedible fresh off the tree, but can be used to make jams and jellies. Fruits have also been used to flavor certain liquors such as brandy and whiskey. Fruits are attractive to wildlife. Narrow oblong-ovate to lanceolate, glossy green leaves (to 5” long) have acuminate tips and serrate margins. Foliage turns attractive shades of yellow and rose in fall. Mature trees develop dark scaly bark. Bark, roots and leaves contain concentrations of toxic cyanogenic compounds, hence the noticeable bitter almond aroma of the inner bark. Native Americans prepared decoctions of the inner bark for cough medicines and tea-like cold remedies. Hard, reddish-brown wood takes a fine polish and is commercially valued for use in a large number of products such as furniture, veneers, cabinets, interior paneling, gun stocks, instrument/tool handles and musical instruments. Specific epithet comes from the Latin word for “late” in reference to the late flowering and fruiting of this cherry in comparison to other cherries.


As a native Missouri tree, black cherry is adapted to the Missouri climate and has good resistance to most pests. As with most cherries, however, it is susceptible to a large number of insect and disease pests. Potential diseases include leaf spot, die back, leaf curl, powdery mildew, root rot and fireblight. Potential insects include aphids, scale, borers, leafhoppers, caterpillars, tent caterpillars and Japanese beetles. Spider mites may also be troublesome.

Garden Uses

Medium to large flowering shade tree.