Time of bloom: May to June.
Seed-time: A drupe, ripe in August and September.
Range: Nova Scotia to Florida, westward to the Dakotas and
Arizona. Habitat: Woodlands, and also common along fence rows, roadsides, and waste places.
The Black Cherry is often a large tree and a most valuable one to dealers in fine cabinet-making woods. It has reddish brown twigs, with somewhat bitter, aromatic, inner bark. The leaves are somewhat thick in texture, smooth and shining on the upper side, broadly lance-shape to oblong, taper-pointed, the teeth incurved and short. The flowers are white and grow in elongated terminal racemes; the fruits which follow are purplish black drupes, slightly bitter but pleasant to the taste.
It is not the mature tree that must be placed on the list of noxious plants, but its numerous progeny of young shoots which spring up everywhere about the country. Birds are very fond of the juicy fruits and eat great quantities, voiding the stones along fence rows and telephone lines, with the result that those landmarks are often bordered by thickets of Black Cherry sprouts. The leaves of this and kindred plants, under certain conditions, contain a dangerous quantity of hydrocyanic acid, commonly called prussic acid, a most virulent poison. When eaten by cattle and sheep, the complex chemical changes that take place within the animals' stomachs liberate the poison, frequently with fatal effect. The common Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana) also contains prussic acid, but in a less amount than the Black Cherry. Leaves from large trees or old but stunted shrubs are not nearly so dangerous as leaves from young, rapidly growing sprouts. Both fresh and wilted leaves are poisonous, but chemists have demonstrated by experiment that "Leaves wilted in bright sunlight to about 75 per cent of their original weight, or until they begin to appear slightly limp and to lose their gloss, yield the maximum amount of prussic acid." It is stated that a half-pound of Black Cherry leaves is a fatal quantity for a cow to eat, and a much less quantity will kill a sheep.
Yearling Cherry sprouts may be easily and quickly pulled when the ground is soft, leaving no stubs to put forth more leaves. Older, shrubby growths should be closely cut, or, better, grubbed out, before coming into leaf, if they are situated where cattle or sheep are likely to browse them. Often grazing animals will eat litter that is lying on the ground, even though they have not contracted the habit of browsing from standing growth; therefore all the brush cut should be put out of harm's way by piling and burning.