Plant of the Week: Black Cherry

As you walk along the northern section of the High Line, the self-seeded landscape of the Interim Walkway offers a brief window into an untouched, urban ecological setting. If you are no stranger to New York City, these micro-greenspaces are a dime a dozen; as they often reclaim the abandoned lots and narrow corridors throughout our city's infrastructure. Among the native plants that inhabit these spaces, is a tree that is deeply rooted in North American and indigenous history. Meet: Prunus serotina, common name, black cherry.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop

What sets Prunus serotina apart from other plants on the High Line is its versatility as a resourceful commodity. The lightly sweet, yet bitter taste of the black cherry fruit that droops from its branches has been used to produce a variety of different spirits including whiskey, brandy and rum.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop

Not just the fruit, but the bark alone is also cherished for its unique physical and chemical qualities. Historically used for medicinal purposes by native and indigenous people to help relieve pain and fight-off common ailments such as severe coughs or colds, its dried bark was often incorporated into teas and herbal infusions. On the surface, young bark on a Prunus serotina is smooth to the touch with razor thin horizontal lenticels; while aged barked bares rough and irregularly shaped plates of dark wood. However on the inside, wood of a Prunus serotina has a naturally reddish hue which is sought after by cabinets and furniture makers for its structural integrity and beautiful color.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop

Prunus serotina will continue to be one of the main attractions of the High Line throughout the year, so make sure you appreciate this tree as we transition from summer into fall.

Prunus serotina is native to eastern North American and Central America, with an estimated plant hardiness in zones 3 through 9. Exhibiting a preference for medium, well-drained soils that are exposed to full sun to part shade; these trees were naturally located in deciduous forests, but are now abundant in a variety of different ecological landscapes. If grown under optimal conditions, black cherry trees typically reach heights of 50 to 80 feet tall, with a leaf area of 30 to 60 feet wide.

For a specimen located in a built environment such as New York City, black cherry trees should be managed carefully, as their health is highly susceptible to unnecessary pruning and human-induced tree damage. Little care is needed once this tree is established.

This plant is located in the Interim Walkway section of the High Line, between the intersections of 30th St & 11th Ave and 33rd St & 12th Ave.

The High Line's planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 500 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line's rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today. Every week we share one of our gardeners' current favorites with you.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line's most important gardening projects.

TD Bank is the Presenting Green Sponsor of the High Line.

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