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 greeish 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

BL_tree A medium sized tree up to 70 feet. Formed with a relatively straight trunk with an irregularly oblong crown of crooked branches. Part of Pea Family, also known as the Acacia, Yellow Locust, Common Locust or White Locust. It has an unusual characteristic of folding its leaflets at dark or before a rainfall known as “sleep”. Forms thickets by rootsuckering. Used for erosion control, mine props and historically for shipbuilding. The inner bark contains a poisonous compound which causes the severe pain when pricked by the thorns. Livestock can be poisoned by the young shoots or bark, but the bark is eaten by rabbits and the seeds by mourning doves and bobwhite. BL_leaf Resembles a sprig of grapes. 8-14” long, with 7-9 leaflets. Each leaflet is 1”oval with smooth edges. BL_bark Gray – light brown, thick withm intersecting, ropey ridges and shallow furrows. Mature – furrows deepen, less intersecting. BL_twig Zig-zag, slightly stout and angular, red-brown .Pairs of sharp thorns at each leaf scar (often absent on older twigs); buds are submerged beneath the leaf scar. BL_seeds Light brown, flattened pods, 2-4” long, filled with 4 to 8 red-brown seeds that ripen in fall. BL_flower Showy white, fragrant flowers, 1″ long and pea-like. Appear in mid–late spring in long 6” clusters.