Feb 14th 2017

Prunus serotina, commonly called black cherry, wild black cherry, rum cherry, or mountain black cherry, is a woody plant species belonging to the genus Prunus. This cherry is native to eastern North America: from eastern Canada through southern Quebec and Ontario; south through the eastern United States to Texas and central Florida; with disjunct populations in Arizona and New Mexico; and in the mountains of Mexico and Guatemala.

There are two subspecies:
Prunus serotina
subsp. serotina - Canada, United States
Prunus serotina
subsp. capuli (Cav.) McVaugh - Mexico, Guatemala

Black cherry trees are most commonly noted for their profuse spring bloom. The fragrant white flowers of the black cherry tree appear with the spring foliage. The blooms are in slender pendulous clusters. When the flowers are finished blooming, they are replaced by drooping clusters of small red cherries.

The fruit of the black cherry tree is bitter and inedible directly off the tree. The cherries can be used to make jams and jellies. The fruit of the black cherry tree has also been used to flavor some liquors. The leaves are glossy and green, turning to lovely shades of yellow in the autumn months.

The black cherry is a pioneer species. In the Midwest, it is seen growing mostly in old fields with other sunlight-loving species, such as black walnut, black locust, and hackberry. It is a moderately long-lived tree, with ages of up to 258 years known, though it is prone to storm damage with branches breaking easily; any decay resulting, however, only progresses slowly. It is well known to proliferate in the Allegheny National Forest region of northwest Pennsylvania. Most, if not all of the Cherry Bartley uses is from the Appalachian Mountains area.

Also known as a fruitwood, cherry is a strong, fine-grained hardwood with a pink undertone. Its rich coloring darkens with age and exposure to light, giving the wood a rich patina with age.

In cherry wood, small black flecks occur in the grain where tiny amounts of sap were stored in the cherry tree. Mineral deposits (or pitch pockets) are natural and randomly occurring. Most furniture makers (including Bartley) are reluctant to offer cherry furniture without mineral deposits for a couple reasons. First, it is against our sustainable forestry principles. Up to five times the number of trees would need to be harvested to produce furniture with virtually no mineral deposits. Second, the presence of mineral deposits in cherry wood can be a matter of opinion. What one customer might feel was mineral-deposit free furniture might not be the same for another customer. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Another characteristic of Cherry is its pale yellowish sapwood that will not darken to the same color of the heartwood ever. Bartley tries to use as little sapwood as possible in our Cherry pieces. When necessary, we relegate it to hidden areas as much as possible. There are many tricks to hiding the sapwood areas and blending them so that only the builder really knows its there.

Although today we think of black cherry as one of the classic furniture woods, it wasn't always that way. Settlers in the Appalachian Mountains, for example, valued the tree's fruit more than its wood. They dubbed the tree "rum cherry" because from its dark purple cherries they brewed a potent liquor. Also, black cherry's inner bark contributed to tonics and cough medicines. Elsewhere, though, the wood was more appreciated. Early New England furniture-makers often found the price of fashionable Honduras mahogany beyond reach and turned instead to native black cherry.

In cabinetmaking, cherry is rated a favorite because of its beauty and versatility. It has warmth, personality and charm. As a craft wood it cuts, stains and sands beautifully, which makes it a hobby wood of choice. American black cherry is widely used for paneling and as a veneer, burial caskets and other specialty items such as gunstocks, tobacco pipes, musical instruments, turnery, carvings, etc. It is only moderately durable for outdoor projects.

With exposure and age, Cherry wood gets this great patina so you may want to do a clear finish only on it. If you do decide to stain it, Cherry wood can be a little tricky.