Trees of Iowa: An Interactive Key

Black cherry
(Prunus serotina)

Leaves are alternate, simple, single toothed, and oval or oblong shaped.

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Black cherry is the largest member of the rose family native to Iowa. It commonly attains heights of 60 feet and diameters of up to 2 feet on good sites; on less desirable sites it is often much smaller in size. 

Hardiness: zones 3 through 10

Growth Rate:
Moderate to Fast

Mature Shape:
Varies by species

20 to 30 feet high

15 to 25 feet wide

Site Requirements:
Adaptable but prefers moist, well-drained soils.  In the right conditions, it will grow like a weed.  Withstands heavy pruning and prefers full sun to partial shade.

Flowering Dates: May - June

Seed Dispersal Dates: August - September

Seed Bearing Age: 5 years

Seed Bearing Frequency: Every 1-5 years

Seed Stratification: Prechill for 4 months at 34°F to 40°F

Black cherry is characterized by having alternate simple leaves, 2-6 inches long, uniformly wide to lance-shaped, pointed at the tip, and with fine teeth which curve inward towards the tip of the leaf. The upper surface of the leaf is dark green and shiny; the lower surface is paler in color. The leaf has 1-2 tiny glands on the petiole near the leaf blade. The buds are 1/8 to 1/4 inch long, with 6 dark red-brown scales; the terminal bud is usually slightly larger than lateral buds.  

Black Cherry TwigsBlack Cherry Leaves

Branches are slender, smooth, pale green turning bright red to dark reddish-brown in color with age. The bark on older trees is thin, light gray to nearly black in color and scaly with upturned edges. The clusters of dark red to black fruits taste bitter, but are used for jams and wines and utilized by many species of songbirds. The leaves and inner bark, when crushed, have a bitter almond aroma caused by hydrocyanic acid. The cyanic acid in wilted twigs and leaves may be dangerous to deer and cattle when consumed in large quantities in the fall, although deer can eat the fresh green leaves without ill effect.

Black Cherry FruitBlack Cherry Bark

Black cherry is native in all Iowa counties except Lyon and Sioux. Cherry does best on upland moist, fertile, well drained soils, but grows on a wide variety of sites and soil conditions. As site quality deteriorates, so does the size and quality of the wood produced. Cherry grows in mixed stands; its common associates include the oaks, hickories, white ash, bigtooth and quaking aspen, ironwood and chokecherry. 

Black Cherry BudsBlack Cherry Flowers

Black cherry is seldom used as a landscape plant. Some of its characteristics, including producing less shade than maples and oaks, showy white flowers in the spring, dark-green glossy leaves, and moderately fast growth rate, indicate that cherry should be used more in urban conditions. As an open grown tree, cherry will develop with an oval, moderately spreading crown. 

Cherry is prized as a wood for furniture because of its beautiful reddish to red brown color and its attractive luster when finished. Cherry wood is moderately hard and heavy, shrinks little when dried, works moderately easy, and warps little during seasoning and use. Because of its fine characteristics, cherry wood is used for various scientific instruments, printers' blocks, holding and shaping tools in fine crystal production, pianos and organs, handles and caskets. 


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Black Cherry Bark Black Cherry Flowers Black Cherry Twigs Black Cherry Bark Black Cherry Bark Black Cherry Flowers Black Cherry Fruit Black Cherry Leaves Black Cherry Twigs