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This native plant is a woody tree up to 80' tall. It has a central trunk at the base and a crown of leafy branches that is longer than wide. The tips of growing branches are green and glabrous, but they soon become reddish brown and woody. The bark of larger branches is relatively smooth and reddish brown. The lenticels (air pores) of this bark are conspicuously white and horizontally flattened. On older trees, the coarse bark of the trunk becomes brown-black and rough-textured. The smaller branches and twigs produce alternate leaves. The blades of these leaves are up to 6" long and 2" across; they are ovate, narrowly ovate, or lanceolate-ovate in shape and finely serrated along their margins. The tiny teeth of these margins curve inward. The upper surface of each leaf is green and glabrous, while the lower surface is light green. The lower surface is usually glabrous, but sometimes there are fine hairs along the central vein. The tip of each leaf blade is slender and acute, while its base is rounded or wedge-shaped. The slender petioles of the leaves are up to 1" long; each petiole has a pair of tiny nectaries near the leaf blade. Elongated racemes of flowers are produced from short leafy branches; they are ascending, widely spreading, or descending (often the latter). Each raceme is 4-6" long and densely packed with flowers (see Close-up of Raceme). Each flower is ½" across, consisting of 5 white petals, 5 green sepals, 15-22 stamens, and a central pistil with a flattened stigma. The petals are obovate in shape and much longer than the sepals. The blooming period occurs from late spring to early summer and lasts about 2-3 weeks. Each flower is replaced by a globoid fleshy drupe about 1/3" across. Immature drupes are green, but they become dark red and finally purple-black at maturity during the fall. Each drupe contains a single stone with a smooth surface. The flesh of a mature drupe is sweet and slightly bitter. The root system consists of woody taproot. This tree spreads by reseeding itself.


Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers


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