Pin Cherry forms a small tree, up to 30 feet in height in our area but trees of 100 feet in height have been found in the Appalachians. It has a straight trunk and a narrow, but rounded top crown. Branches first ascend and then become horizontal.
The bark is a shiny reddish-brown to grayish-brown that has numerous horizontal fissures called lenticels. The bark may peel off in horizontal strips.
Twigs are slender and reddish-brown like the young bark. The spring buds are also reddish-brown and there will be a cluster of them at the branch tips while the lateral buds are single and held close to the twig.
Leaves are alternate and simple, lanceolate in shape, 1.5 to 5 inches long, with long pointed tips. Leaf margins have fine teeth, surfaces are bright green above, paler under, each stalked and stalks usually have 2 glandular dots near leaf base. Fall color is yellow. Leaves appear just after the flowers open.
Flowers occur in small umbels with 5 to 7 flowers per umbel all with equal length stalks. Individual flowers have 5 rounded white petals and numerous extended stamens with deep yellow anthers.
Fruit: Flowers mature to a small sour drupe, no more than 1/3 inch long, that contains a single hard seed. Seeds contain cyanide compounds but these can be removed and then any traces can be dissipated by cooking the pulp.
Habitat: Pin Cherry grows from a shallow root system with many lateral roots. Plants are rapid growers but are short lived, usually 20 to 40 years, but can begin fruiting in two years. Seeds are dispersed by birds and other small creatures and are viable for many years. It grows on a variety of soils as long as there is plenty of sun and adequate moisture. Dry soils will produce a shrub instead of a tree.
Names: The large genus, Prunus, is named after the Latin word for the plum. The species name, pensylvanica, means 'of Pennsylvania' (the state). The author name for the plant classification, ‘L.f.’ refers to Carl Linnaeus the Younger (1741-1783), Swedish naturalist, son of Carl Linnaeus, who did some follow-on work from his father’s, published Supplementum Plantarum systematis vegetabilium in 1781 and died, childless, of jaundice. The alternate common name of Fire Cherry describes this trees tendency to sprout up after a fire has burned an area.
Comparisons: The other most common cherry in our area that is in tree form is Black Cherry, P. serotina, but there the flower clusters are in dense long cylindrical racemes.
Above: Pin Cherries are 'thin leaved', that is, fewer leaves than most trees on the branches. Flower Clusters are at the end of twigs.
Below: The small flower umbels of Pin Cherry. Note on the right how all stalks are of equal length.
Below: 1st photo - Note the pointed tips and fine teeth of the leaves. 2nd photo - The fruit is a small sour drupe containing one seed.
Below: Buds in spring are ovoid in shape with reddish-brown scales, terminal buds clustered, laterals held near the twig.
Below: 1st photo - Note the small gland on the stalk of the upright leaf. 2nd photo - Pin Cherry bark has horizontal fissures (lenticels). 3rd photo - Twigs are reddish brown with buds cluster together.
Notes: Pin Cherry is not indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler introduced this tree to the Garden in 1909 when she received some from the Park Board Nursery which had started to grow the species. She added another 4 in 1913 from the same source. Martha Crone noted it in bloom in 1939 and also listed it on her 1951 Garden Census. Ken Avery planted it in 1964 and Susan Wilkins added plants in 2015. In North America Pin Cherry ranges across all of the southern Canadian Provinces and the northern states of the U.S. from Montana and Wyoming eastward to the coast, south as far as Tennessee and the North Carolina. In Minnesota it has been found in 2/3rd of the counties with the exceptions being mostly in the SW quadrant.
There are six species of Prunus native to Minnesota: P. americana, American Wild Plum; P. nigra, Canadian Plum (or Cherry); P. pensylvanica, Pin Cherry; P. pumila, Sand Cherry; P. serotina var. serotina, Black Cherry; and P. virginiana var. virginiana, Chokecherry. Several introduced species have also been reported.
Uses: Since the trees do not achieve a large diameter, their use for lumber is non-existant. They can be used for fuel and pulpwood. The fruit is sour but edible raw and the pulp can make a fine jelly when mixed with currants or apple to help it jell (Ref. #6).
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"