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Prunus pensylvanica

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Title: Prunus pensylvanica  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Prunus, Automeris io, Prosartes trachycarpa, Old Forest Arboretum of Overton Park, Cherries
Collection: Butterfly Food Plants, Cherries, Flora of Canada, Flora of the Appalachian Mountains, Flora of the Eastern United States, Flora of the Great Lakes Region (North America), Flora of the Northeastern United States, Flora of the Northern United States, Natural History of the Great Smoky Mountains, Plants Described in 1782, Prunus, Trees of British Columbia, Trees of Canada, Trees of Colorado, Trees of Maryland, Trees of Michigan, Trees of North Carolina, Trees of Ontario, Trees of Pennsylvania, Trees of South Dakota, Trees of the Eastern United States, Trees of the Great Lakes Region (North America), Trees of the Northeastern United States, Trees of the United States, Trees of West Virginia
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Prunus pensylvanica

Prunus pensylvanica
1913 illustration[1]
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Rosaceae
Genus: Prunus
Subgenus: Cerasus
Species: P. pensylvanica
Binomial name
Prunus pensylvanica
L.f. 1782
Natural range of Prunus pensylvanica
  • Cerasus pensylvanica (L.f.) Loisel.
  • Padellus pensylvanica (L.f.) Eremin & Yushev
  • Padus pensylvanica (L.f.) S.Ya.Sokolov
  • Prunus cerasifolia S.Watson
  • Prunus pennsylvanica Sarg.

Prunus pensylvanica, also known as bird cherry,[2] fire cherry,[2] pin cherry,[2] and red cherry,[2] is a North American cherry species in the genus Prunus.


  • Distribution 1
  • Description 2
  • Ecology 3
  • Uses 4
    • Food 4.1
    • Lumber 4.2
  • References 5


Prunus pensylvanica is widespread across much of Canada from Tennessee. Scattered growth of the Pin cherry also occurs in the Rocky Mountains, south to Colorado as well as in the Black Hills of South Dakota.[4][5]


Prunus pensylvanica, grows as a shrub or small tree, usually with a straight trunk and a narrow, round-topped crown. It grows 5–15 m (16–49 ft) tall and 10–51 cm (3.9–20.1 in) in diameter. Trees up to 30 m (98 ft) tall have been found growing in the southern Appalachians, with the largest found on the western slopes of the Great Smoky Mountains. Its foliage is thin,[6] with leaves 4–11 cm (1.6–4.3 in) long and 1–4.5 cm (0.39–1.77 in) wide. Flowers occur in small groupings of five to seven with individual flowers 1 cm (0.39 in) across. The fruit are drupes, ranging from 4–8 mm (0.16–0.31 in), each with a single seed 4–6 mm (0.16–0.24 in) in diameter contained within a hard "stone".[7]

The Pin cherry can regenerate by seed and sprout. Its flowers are bisexual and pollinated by insects. Seeds are dispersed by birds, small mammals, and gravity. As part of its reproductive strategy, Pin cherries seeds can remain viable in the soil for many years. Seeds accumulate over prolonged periods, and soil seed banks may be viable for 50–100 years. Asexual reproduction is achieved by sprouting, and often thickets of Pin cherry plants form.[7]

The Pin cherry is rather short lived, having a lifespan of only 20–40 years following a rapid maturation. Its root system is shallow, with roots tending to grow laterally. It is an important food source for many animals. Winter moose browse it in the Great Lake states and boreal forest region.[7]


Though they are documented to sprout following cutting, individual Pin cherry thickets are often killed if exposed to fire. Nonetheless, they have adapted as a species by the establishment of their seed banks which are protected from the most severe heat by their soil cover and fed by the nutrients in the resultant ash residue. Following a fire or other disturbance, seeds which may be dormant for years will germinate rapidly, stimulated by the altered conditions after fire. Combined with the rapid initial growth of seedlings, these characteristics enable groupings of Pin cherry thickets to dominate many burned-over areas, particularly in the northern hardwood forest.

The Pin cherry serves as foodplant for various Lepidoptera. See List of Lepidoptera which feed on Prunus.



Pin cherry currently has little commercial value, though recent interest in commercial production of pin cherry fruit has emerged. The fruit is edible and can be used in jams, jellies and preserves.


Pin cherry wood is light, moderately soft, porous, and low in strength giving it little commercial value. In general, it is not used for lumber and is considered a noncommercial species. It occurs in abundance, however, over a wide range of sites and produces large quantities of biomass in a relatively short time. The species has been described as well adapted to intensive management and chip harvesting on short rotations for fiber and fuel.


  1. ^ lithograph by J.N.Fitch, published in Curtis's Botanical Magazine, London, vol. 139 (series 4, volume 9): plate 8486
  2. ^ a b c d e "USDA GRIN taxonomy". 
  3. ^ L.f.Prunus pensylvanicaThe Plant List,
  4. ^ Biota of North America Program 2014 county distribution map
  5. ^ Biota of North America Program 2014 state-level distribution map
  6. ^ SPECIES: Prunus pensylvanica US Forestry Service's Fire Effects Information System.
  7. ^ a b c Linnaeus f., 1782. Pin or bird or fire cherry, cerisier de Pennsylvanie, petit merisierPrunus pensylvanicaFlora of North America,
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