Wild Cherry – Prunus serotina
A deciduous tree, the cherry tree grows up to 90 feet tall. The bark is dark reddish brown (gray in maturity), rough, aromatic, and cross-marked. Leaves are serrated, oval to lance shaped, green on top and pale beneath, with finely toothed edges. White flowers hang in drooping multiple clusters. The fruit is a blackish purple cherry.
The cherry tree is indigenous to North America. It is also cultivated in Europe. This tree grows best in deep, rich, moist, well-drained soil under full sun.
FOLKLORE AND TRADITIONAL USES
Settlers in the Appalachian Mountains used the cherry tree’s fruit to brew “rumcherry,” a potent liquor. Early New England craftsmen turned to the native tree as a substitute for the more costly and inaccessible Honduras mahogany. Hence, the cherry is sometimes called “the poor man’s mahogany.” Its finely textured grain has been used for centuries in furniture, musical instruments, and architectural paneling. The slightly bitter-tasting fruit is used to make jelly and wine.
Cherry bark is a popular Native American remedy, long used to treat coughs and colds. Its primary constituent is prunasin, which, when broken down in the body, quells spasms in the smooth muscles that line the bronchioles. Cherry tree syrup is effective in treating coughs, bronchitis, whooping cough, and other lung problems. It is also believed to have a simultaneous mild sedative action. However, be careful of the leaves: the leaves contain hydrocyanic acid, which is toxic and can cause death if ingested in large amounts.