Comprehensive DescriptionRead full entry
General: Rose Family (Rosaceae). Native trees growing to 38 m tall; bark of larger trunks fissured and scaly, but thin. Leaves are alternate, simple, ovate to oblong-lanceolate, 5-15 cm long, 2.5-5 cm wide, with finely toothed margins, glabrous or commonly with reddish hairs along the midrib beneath, near the base. Inflorescence is an oblong-cylindric raceme 10-15 cm long at the end of leafy twigs of the season, with numerous flowers; calyx tube of short lobes, petals 5, white. Fruits are berry-like, about 8-10 mm in diameter, obovoid, black when ripe; seed a single, black, ovoid stone 6-8 mm long. The common name is from the black color of the ripe fruits.
Variation within the species: The species has a number of geographic variants:
Var. eximia (Small) Little - Edwards Plateau of central TX
Var. rufula (Woot. & Standl.) McVaugh - TX, NM, AZ
Var. serotina - widespread in the eastern US
Var. virens (Woot. & Standl.) McVaugh - TX, NM, AZ
Var. salicifolia Koehne - Mexico and Guatemala
Var. serotina may reach 38 meters tall in the eastern US, but southwestern US varieties typically are smaller; southwestern black cherry (var. rufula) seldom grows taller than 9 m, and escarpment black cherry (var. exima) no taller than 15 meters. The leaves of var. serotina are thin compared to those of the other varieties. Domesticants and wild populations of P. serotina in Mexico and Central America, called "capulin" (var. salicifolia), have larger (2 cm) fruits, apparently through selection by native peoples. Plants previously recognized as P. serotina var. alabamensis (Mohr) Little have been taxonomically returned to species rank, as P. alabamensis Mohr.