By Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
Spring has sprung here in the southeastern portion of the state! Flowers are blooming, grass is growing, and trees are now putting on new foliage. Many wildlife creatures are engorging themselves on the fresh new foliage and insects that are now out and about. Among all the vegetation out there, the Black cherry (Prunus serotina) is one of the most desired wildlife forages, especially among deer and turkey! The black cherry has many unique characteristics, a wide-ranging habitat, as well as a variety of uses.
The black cherry is easily recognizable by its dark, cornflake-looking appearance. It is a very fast growing tree! It can grow 18-36 inches per year in the open. However, if it is located under the forest canopy, it will only grow 5-6 inches per year. It can reach 80-90 feet in height. Its leaves are most closely related to Sourwood leaves and are elliptical in shape. The margins of the leaves are finely serrated with a shiny appearance. When and if the bark is bruised, it emits an almond-like odor. The bark can also develop a large black knot, unique to the black cherry. Throughout the summer months, the black cherry begins producing a fruit (called a drupe) that is dark purple or black and bitter in taste. The drupe matures through the fall months and then falls to the ground, providing great forage for many wildlife species. This tree can produce fruit as young as ten years old or as old as 180, but maximum fruit production occurs between the ages of 30 and 100.
Black cherry is one of the most tolerant hardwood species. It can survive on a wide array of soil types. It is most commonly found on sandy soils in the southeast. It survives best as an individual tree or growing amongst a few other hardwoods. In the northern part of the country, the black cherry is most commonly found growing along maples and beeches. In the south, it is found growing with tulip poplars and oaks. WARNING: the leaves contain hydrocyanic acid which is harmful if consumed by livestock. Remove this tree if it growing near or on your pasture land. The acid has no adverse effects on wildlife species, only livestock.
Deer and turkey relish the black cherry leaves as well as the drupes. In the springtime, the deer will nip off the ends of twigs. The drupes are consumed by deer, turkey, songbirds, and other small mammals when lying on the ground. The wood of a black cherry tree has a red or orange tinge; therefor it is highly favored in furniture manufacturing. The fruit is used for human consumption as well. The drupe is used in making wine, liquors, as well as jams and jellies. Also, wild cherry cough syrup is formulated using extracts from the bark. Essentially, every component of this tree is used in some form or fashion by human or wildlife consumption.
Prunus serotina is one of the most versatile hardwood species in the United States. From Canada to Florida, the tree grows on many soil types and in many ecosystems. The leaves and drupes keep wildlife species happy as well as humans! Be sure and keep your eyes open for this species, but keep this tree away from your cattle!
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