Plant Characteristics:

  • Tree: 60 to 100 ft tall
  • Bark: young trees have smooth reddish-brown bark with horizontal rows of pores (lenticel lines); older trees dark brown to black covered in scaly plates resembling burnt potato chips
  • Twigs – slender, reddish-brown with pungent or bitter almond smell 
  • Buds: small with several glossy reddish-brown to greenish scales
  • Blooms: March – June
  • Flowers: small flowers 7-10 mm wide with 5 white clawed petals in narrow clusters (racemes) 6-15 cm long
  • Leaves: deciduous, alternate, simple oblanceolate to ovate, finely toothed, dark green above with a pair of reddish glands at the base; underside paler than above with yellowish to brown hairs along the bottom third of the midrib
  • Fruit type: drupe, dark purple to almost black round 7-10 mm in diameter
  • Fall Foliage: yellow

Additional Details:

  • The inner bark is used medicially as a tonic, sedative, and expectorant.
  • The fruits have a bittersweet winy flavor and are often used to make wine or jelly.
  • It is a singularly dependable source of food for 33 species of birds and mammals.
  • The wood is used commercially for furniture and interior finishes.
  • Larval host for Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Cherry Gall Azure, Viceroy, Columbia Silkmoth, Promethea Moth, Small-eyed Sphinx Moth, Wild Cherry Sphinx Moth, Banded Tussock Moth, Band-edged Prominent, Spotted Apatelodes.

The black cherry contains cyanide-forming toxic compounds, such as amygdalin, in the bark, leaves, and seeds. Wilted leaves, twigs, and seeds are especially toxic to humans and herbivorous mammals.

Black knot fungus (Dibotryon morbosum or Apiosporina morbosa) is causes hard swollen galls along branches and occasionally trunks. In some instances, the galls can completely encircle and girdle the branch causing it to die.

Eastern tent moth caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) construct their silky tent in the crotches of this species with the broadest side orientates southeast for early morning sun.

Brown, R. and M. Brown. 1972. Woody Plants of Maryland. Port City Press, Baltimore, MD.
Foster, S. and J. Duke. 1990. A field guide to medicinal plants of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.
Grimm, W. C. and J. Kartesz. 2002. The Illustrated Book of Trees. Stackpole Books. Mechanicsburg, PA.
Harris, J. and M. Woolf Harris. 1994. Plant Identification Terminology: An illustrated Glossary. Spring Lake Publishing, Spring Lake, UT.
Peterson, L. 1977. A field guide to edible wild plants of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.
Virginia Department of Forestry. 2022. Common Native Trees of Virginia – Tree Identification Guide. The Wildflower Center Staff. 2023. Plant Database. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The University of Texas at Austin