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Black cherry

Leaves and spring flowers of black cherry.

Black cherry is a large, native tree found in the Midwest and throughout the eastern United States. The showy white flowers appear as pendulous clusters in early spring followed by dark, pea-sized fruits in late summer. The mature bark is dark and scaly, often flipping on the edges.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.  

Botanical name:

Prunus serotina

All common names:

black cherry, wild black cherry

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Shade tree,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)

Mature Height:

50-60 feet

Mature Width:

20-30 feet

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 3,
  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Acid soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Dry sites,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Road salt

Acid Soils:

  • Tolerant

Alkaline Soils:

  • Tolerant

Salt Spray:

  • Intolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Tolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Planting Considerations:

  • Aggressive,
  • Highly susceptible to ice damage,
  • Messy fruit/plant parts

Ornamental Interest:

  • Spring blossoms,
  • Fall color,
  • Edible fruit,
  • Showy flowers,
  • Attractive bark

Seasons of Interest:

  • early spring,
  • mid spring,
  • early fall,
  • mid fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Pyramidal

Growth Rate:

  • Fast

Transplants Well:

  • Yes


  • Cavity-nesting birds,
  • Game birds,
  • Game mammals,
  • Insect pollinators,
  • Small mammals,
  • Songbirds

More Information:

Tree & Plant Care

The tree grows best in a slightly acid to neutral pH soil.  Avoid wet sites. 

Disease, pests, and problems

Black knot is a common fungal disease.
Eastern tent caterpillar commonly attacks this tree.
The tree self sows easily due to heavy fruit production.  Can become weedy and aggressive.

Disease, pests, and problem resistance

Resistant to black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 1

Commonly found in drier upland sites, along fencerows and along the edges of wooded areas.

Bark color and texture 

The bark is dark gray to almost black.  It is scaly with upturned edges.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate leaves with finely toothed margins.  Leaves are 2 to 5 inches long with small glands near the base by or on the petiole.
Leaves are dark green in summer, changing to yellow and orange in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Small, white flowers on elongated clusters.  Flowers have an slightly unpleasant odor.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Small cherries held in an elongated cluster.  They ripen to a purple-black color.

Location of Prunus serotina (Black cherry) at the Arboretum