Nature Bulletin No. 201-A October 9, 1965
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
This is a year of bountiful harvests, rewarding the labor of the farmer
and the gardener, and also producing an abundance of wild fruits
which may be had for the picking. In our forest preserves, all wild
fruits have been unusually large, juicy and full of flavor --
strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants, gooseberries,
elderberries, grapes, plums, haws, crabapples and cherries. To some of
us, the last is the tastiest of them all and, a month ago, the outer twigs
of the wild cherry trees were drooping with heavy clusters of this fruit.
The familiar Wild Black Cherry is the only one of the four kinds of
wild cherries found in this region which grows to be a large forest tree
widespread throughout the eastern half of North America. Its reddish-
brown close-grained wood, strong and rather hard, takes a satiny
finish and compares favorably with mahogany. It is highly prized for
fine cabinet work and some of our most beautiful pieces of antique
furniture from colonial and pioneer times were made of wild cherry.
It is one of the first trees to leaf in spring, and, soon after, it looms
against the sky with dense elongated clusters of small white flowers.
Later, the bunches of cherries, as they ripen, slowly change from green
to red, to purple, and finally black. In years like this, they may reach a
diameter of one-half inch. They are sweet and juicy with a bitter but
pleasant winey tang when fully ripe, and may be used to make jelly,
jam, pie, preserves, wine, or "cherry bounce". Indians crushed and
dried them for winter use, or to make pemmican. Pheasants, quail, and
a hundred other birds eat these cherries and scatter their seeds.
Squirrels, chipmunks and wild mice gnaw them for the kernels within.
The pointed leathery leaves are about a third as wide as they are long
and glossy on the upper surface. Tent caterpillars seem to prefer them
above all other leaves. The wilted leaves, from sprouts or limbs cut and
left to lie on the ground, often prove a deadly poison to cattle, due to
the presence of prussic acid. The dark outer bark of the larger trees is
broken into loose-edged flakes an inch or two across, and appears
scaly. A resinous gum which oozes from wounds in the bark,
frequently in considerable quantity, make good chewing gum; and
extracts of the bark are still used for sedatives, laxatives and tonics.
Wild Red Cherry, also called pin cherry, pigeon cherry, bird cherry
and fire cherry, appears as an occasional small tree in sandy soils of
the Great Lakes region, most often following forest fires. Its flowers
are in small clusters; and the cherries are red, small and sour when
mature, but occasionally used in cough medicines.
Among the sand dunes around Lake Michigan, we find the Sand
Cherry: a small shrub with characteristically erect leaves, scanty
flowers and dark red fruit. Some people find this fruit to be delicious.
Along the woodland borders, along fence rows, and as a "weed" tree
creating an understory in the forest, the chokecherry is common over
most of the United States and southern Canada. It is a large shrub or
small tree with dull-surfaced leaves, broader than those of the black
cherry. Its white flowers, which grow in long dense showy clusters, are
very fragrant with a heavy almond-like perfume. They are followed by
clusters of small red cherries which are "puckery" to the taste but are
relished by many birds.
In some places, the cultivated Pie Cherry has escaped and is growing
wild, its seeds having been distributed by birds.
Can you bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy?"
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Update: June 2012