an everyday photo, every day | photography • art • poetry

Wild Black Cherry

wild black cherry

Wild Black Cherry in bloom

No doubt you’ve heard of Wild Black Cherry flavoring for everything from cough syrup to chewing gum. Well, this is what it looks like—in bloom. For just a few days each year millions of tiny, nearly perfectly round white petals fall like snow all over my yard and any part of the neighborhood they can reach.

wild black cherry

millions of petals on everything

All these flowers produce tiny sour little cherries which later fall all over my car, and birds have their way with the cherries and my car as well. The tree is basically considered a weed since it grows in waste places—and my yard could certainly have been considered a waste place when I moved in here—but I would not give it up unless it became unsafe. This tree was about one-quarter its present size, but I learned what it was and also learned that the berries are favorites of many fruit-eating birds, and ants and other insects live under the bark to be jostled out all winter long by woodpeckers.

woodpecker hammering on branch

The Woodpecker’s Ball

The tree is such a haven for birds, I could never consider giving it up, though the branches grow fragile as they get older, and sometimes fall in storms.

wild black cherry

Just the top of the tree.

I’ve used the juice from the fruit to make juice, jelly and wine, but it’s actually the bark that has the medical properties that makes it such an effective cough suppresant—yes, that’s why cough drops and cough syrup are flavored with wild black cherry. Steeping, not boiling, the inner bark releases a multi-medicinal compound that is anti-tussive and often a mild sedative, though it’s a dangerous dance because part of the medicinal substance released is related to and extracted from the cyanide naturally occurring in the tree’s bark. Native Americans used the berries in their pemmican and drank tea made from the bark for a variety of conditions. I managed to make cough syrup from it and used it, and survived.

While regular cherry trees have lovely blossoms, I’ve often wondered if the “cherries hung with snow” which he rode off to see in the woods were actually wild black cherries in A.E. Housman’s poem “Loveliest of Trees”.

wild black cherry

Closeup of blossoms


8 responses

  1. She was a beauty! 🙂 Lord rest her soul.

    July 29, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    • She was, and I think a good bit of her will be able to carry on! I had an arborist look her over and the split doesn’t carry too far down the trunk. We’ll trim a little and see what happens with the remainder. But a fruit-bearing insect-attracting tree would be missed in my habitat!

      July 29, 2014 at 8:29 pm

  2. Bernadette, I just added a link at the bottom of my post from last week (We Must Be Mad with Joy) to this one of yours, as I mentioned the wild black cherry in mine. I thought visitors might enjoy seeing more photos of the tree and reading some of its history and uses. It grows all through the woods here, especially in North Park.

    May 31, 2013 at 5:21 pm

  3. Pingback: We Must Be Mad With Joy | composerinthegarden

  4. I love these trees; I’ve been enjoying their fragrance and blooms for the past week or so. One of our best native trees!

    May 31, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    • I forgot to mention, they smell like jasmine! I’ll have to add that in. It was late and I was trying to get done before midnight. I love the leaves too, the branches have a bit of a draping weep like a willow, and the leaves are long and narrow and flutter in the breeze. I have mulberries, too, also considered “weeds”, and also very popular with the birds and lots of other critters. Wondering what we are doing to our populations when we eliminate these wonderful natives from our gardens?

      May 31, 2013 at 1:56 pm

      • I love mulberries too! I have a large incredibly graceful one just over the garden fence. It moves so beautifully in the breeze and the birds and squirrels flock to it when the berries ripen. They do seed about quite a bit, but I don’t mind since they are such great additions to our environment.

        May 31, 2013 at 2:01 pm

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