About four days ago, the big Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) in my yard began opening the first of its many flowers. It was a cloudless, perfect spring day, and looking up at the branches of this two-trunked 60-foot high denizen of our upper floodplain, I saw that another cherry celebration was commencing.
Three native trees growing in my southeastern Piedmont yard consistently attract the biggest bird feeding frenzies when their fruits ripen: Dogwood, Southern Magnolia, and Black Cherry. In all but late killing freeze years, fruit set on these species is consistently excellent — the local pollinators love their flowers as much as the birds covet their fruits.
Today before the clouds and winds intensified, I ran out and snapped a shot to document the progress of the Black Cherry’s flowers. They are more than halfway done, judging by this shot:
Note the attractive bark of the trunk behind the dangling branches full of flowers. If you click on these photos, you’ll be able to see the arrangement of the flower clusters. Botanists call this multi-flower cluster form a raceme. Individual flowers are arranged along a central rib. After pollination, the individual black cherries (botanically, drupes) develop from those flowers, creating long clusters of small fruits that begin green, and eventually ripen to red, then a deep purple-black.
When the fruits are fully ripe, the entertainment portion of the program begins. By far the funniest birds to watch are the Pileated Woodpeckers. These crow-sized woodpeckers (our largest) display impressive acrobatic skills as they dangle from thin branches to devour large beak-fulls of what must be very tasty fruits.
But the Pileated Woodpeckers don’t have the tree to themselves. Every other woodpecker, warbler, bluebird, robin, and other fruit-lover all compete for the black cherries.
My references tell me that Black Cherry fruits taste bitter to human mouths, but they supposedly can be made into a tasty wine. I can’t imagine how anyone ever figured this out, unless they lived in a forest bereft of birds. By summer’s end on my tree, all that’s left of the fruits are a few that dropped to the ground during the feeding frenzy — and those are the object of avid insect attention.
You may know that the wood of Black Cherry trees is highly valued by the furniture industry; it’s more valuable commercially in the northern part of its range. Here in the southern Piedmont, you’ll find many small trees growing along roadsides and fencerows (birds land and deposit seeds in such spots). In our region, most of the big trees grow in moist hardwood forests; that’s where my big one lives. But large specimens can also occasionally be found in uplands.
At least one cultivar — ‘Spring Sparkle’ — features aesthetic growth habits more suitable to home landscapes. If you ask me, even the plain old species — when sited favorably — is well worth the space it occupies — for the mouths it feeds — and the entertainment it provides.