Friday, October 14, 2016

The Pin Cherry - Prunus pensylvanica

The Pin Cherry - Prunus pensylvanica is one of the most easily identified of all the Cherries because of the red twigs and long tapering lanceolate leaves. It is a deciduous small tree that reaches heights of only 25-40 feet tall at maturity. Growing in an erect fashion with a single slender trunk that produces suckers from the root crown, an open rounded crown, slender spreading branches. It is native to North America from New Foundland west to British Columbia, South to Colorado in the West and South to NE Georgia in the East. This variety of Cherry is fast growing with a short life span of only 20-40 years. Pin Cherry is a member of the Rose family (Rosaceae) and is sometimes referred to as the Fire Cherry or Bird Cherry.

Image Citation: Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org

The leaves of the Pin Cherry are alternate, simple, thin, lanceolate, often folded upward from the mid vein, curved at the apex. The upper leaf surface is lustrous, hairless, and yellow-green in color, the lower is paler and also hairless. In the fall the leaves turn red, maroon or orange adding interest to the tree. Each leaf blade is 7-15 cm long and about 5 cm broad. The Flower is small only 1-1.25 cm in diameter with 5 white petals and 15 stamens each. Flowering occurs in late Spring to early Summer.  The bark of the Pin Cherry is a reddish-brown sometimes gray-brown in color, lustrous in texture with numerous horizontal lenticels that are well spaced.  At maturity the bark becomes fissured and begins to peel off in paper like plates.

Image Citation: Becca MacDonald, Sault College, Bugwood.org
Image Citation: Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org

The fruit of the Pin Cherry is in the form of a drupe with a hard pitted stone center. Rounded in shape, bright red in color, 6-8 mm each on a slender stalk, the fruit matures in Mid to late Summer each year. Wild Cherries are high in Vitamin C and can be used for many purposes. The pitted fruits/drupe can be used in jellies, jams, juice, tea, breakfast syrup, and desserts. Pin Cherry trees provide food for many species of animals, including Grouse, Whitetail deer, at least 25 species of non-game birds, and many species of Lepidoptera. A recipe for cough syrup can be created using the juice of pin cherries. The flesh of pin cherries can be used as a flavoring for whiskey or brandy and wilderness wine can be created from the drupes (many describe it as bitter to the taste). Pin Cherry stones (the hard center) and leaves of the tree contain cyanide, but the flesh of the drupe is edible. Pin cherry leaves are less toxic than those of most other cherry species. Livestock (primarily cattle) have been known to get sick and even die after grazing on wilted cherry leaves, because they contain hydrocyanic acid. The wilted leaves of the Pin Cherry are more toxic than fresh because the concentration of cyanide is significantly higher.

Unlike most other Cherry woods that are highly sought after for firewood and furniture making, the wood of the Pin Cherry is softer and porous making it much less desirable and of little commercial value. This weak wood could be the result of it's fast growth habit. The fast growth habit of the Pin Cherry is beneficial in controlling soil erosion and minimizes loss of soil nutrients. It is not commonly planted in residential landscapes because of it's short life span.


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