A fast-growing, shrubby tree with fine-textured, red/orange branches and year-round beauty. Flat-topped clusters of white flowers with yellow-tipped stamens appear in April-May, followed by bright red fruits that ripen July-August. Fall foliage is a striking yellow-orange, and red/orange-brown bark with peeling skin adds winter warmth and interest. The fruits are mostly seed, but are an important food for wildlife, particularly birds, giving rise to one of its common names: bird cherry.
These small trees tend to grow in colonies and may be found along highways, in abandoned pastures and in disturbed areas where trees have been blown, cut or burned down. Another common name, fire cherry, refers to its ability to quickly regenerate burned areas in forests. A pioneer species, pin cherry/fire cherry paves the way for the less sun-tolerant, but longer-lived trees that follow, providing nutrients, stabilizing the soil by taking up runoff water, and sheltering the saplings of longer-lived species. As the pin cherries are shaded out by other trees, they gradually die, enriching the soil with a layer of humus. Underground, the root systems loosen compacted soil and nourish the soil-food web, making way for future generations of trees. This attractive tree tends to sucker, so it’s best placed in large, sunny areas where it can form thickets.
Grows to 15-50’ and will live 20-40 years, dying out as the canopy fills in.
Grows in full sun; intolerant of shade.
Prefers well-drained, sandy or gravelly soil, but does well in rich to average soil. Tolerates drought once established.
Spring flowers consist of five white, round petals ½ inch across.
Dark green, shiny leaves are oval/lance-shaped and 2-3” long.
Trunks are straight with many branches and dense foliage.
Mature bark may peel in papery sheets.
A *keystone species, pin cherry is a food source for many different types of wildlife. It's a host plant for 381 species of lepidoptera, including the viceroy butterfly, the wild cherry sphinx and hummingbird clearwing moths (all pictured here in order and preceded by their caterpillars), and a specialist moth: Bucculatrix copeuta that feeds only on Prunus leaves. Numerous species of native bees visit the flowers. Twenty-five species of non-game birds, upland game birds and small mammals eat pin cherry fruit and buds. Foliage and twigs are browsed by deer. Provides nesting cover and materials for birds and small mammals. Beavers cut pin cherry and may completely remove small stands.
Keystone species are those plants whose disappearance will greatly affect a large number of other species that rely on it as part of a balanced ecosystem. Planting natives is important, but even more so is including keystone species in your plantings. Landscapes lacking keystone species support 70-75% fewer species of caterpillars than one with keystone species, even if a high diversity is present.
Medicinal, Edible and Other Uses:
Algonquin, Cree, and Cherokee ate the sour cherries raw, prepared them as preserves, and dried them for snacks. The fruits are now used to make pies, jelly, jam, wine or syrup.
Twigs, wilted leaves, and seeds are highly toxic.
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