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Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), a Popular and Supportive Friend to Insects

Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) is a tree that reaches the canopy in northern United States and the understory in the southern United States. This plant is a host for five species of butterflies and a nectar source for many others that use the white flowers in the spring. It is sometimes considered one of the best plants to have in a butterfly/pollinator garden due to the large number of species it supports. This tree is also a prized for its lumber and can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Taxonomy and History of Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

Herbarium specimen of wild black cherry (Prunus serotina).
Herbarium Specimen — Prunus serotina Ehrh. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)


Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) was originally described by Jakob Friedrich Ehrhart, a German botanist, in 1781. Three varieties are recognized other than the type variety. The rest of the varieties, var. eximia, var. rufula, and var. virens occur in the southwest and Texas. This plant is a member of the Rose Family (Rosaceae).

Wild Black Cherry Description and Alternative Names

White flowers of wild black cherry (Prunus serotina).
Flowers of Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) — Author Image


Wild Black Cherry is a canopy and understory tree that grows up to 80 feet tall. The alternate, simple, lanceolate or elliptical, serrate leaves range from 3 to 6 inches in length and 1-3 inches in width.

Alternative Names

This plant is also known as the Wild Cherry, Wild Rum Cherry, Choke Cherry, and mountain black cherry.

Range and Habitat

Mid-Atlantic mixed hardwood forest in Delaware.
Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest — Author Image


This species is found throughout the United States, except for the western United States, excluding the southwest. It has been introduced and is considered invasive in Europe.


Wild Black Cherry is found in the overstory and understory of mixed hardwood forests.

Coral hairstreak on orange flower.
Butterfly Weed with Coral Hairstreak (Satyrium titus) — Meganmccarty, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
White-tailed deer at woods edge.
Eastern White-tail Deer — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Host Species

This plant is a host to the Coral Hairstreak (Satyrium titus), Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon), Viceroy (Limenitis archippus), and the Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis).

Other Wildlife Value

The flowers are used as a nectar source by other butterflies, bees, and insects and the fruits by birds and mammals.

Interesting Facts

The genus name, Prunus, means cherry tree and the species name, serotina, means late. (Missouri Botanical Garden). The fruits can be used for flavoring rum, hence one the common names (

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