Prunus serotina (rum cherry, wild black cherry, bird cherry, mountain black cherry)

description: deciduous tree

place of origin: eastern North America

urban habitat: thrives in full sun and fertile soil but can tolerate drought and shade; commonly found at margins of parks, on riverbanks, highway banks, along chain link fences, at base of shrubs in ornamental plantings.

ecological function: provides heat reduction in paved areas, erosion control on slopes, food and habitat for wildlife; is used for reclamation of surface mine spoils.

history: Prunus serotina is widespread across North America and has become naturalized in South America. It is also present in Western Europe where it is considered invasive. The seeds and leaves contain high quantities of hydrogen cyanide, which is not harmful in small quantities and has medicinal benefits. The Cherokee used it to treat a wide array of ailments including colds, coughs, fevers, indigestion, measles, rashes and as an aid during childbirth. Many Native American tribes used it for similar ailments as well as for treatment of tuberculosis, bronchitis, syphilis, diarrhea, and as a blood purifier. Its fruit was consumed as food, baked into bread and cake and to make a wine and whiskey, and an infusion of its twigs to make a beverage. An extract from the bark is used commercially as flavoring in soft drinks, syrups and candy. The strong, close-grained wood is also widely used to make furniture, paneling, veneers, toys, and scientific instruments.