Wood of the Week – Black Cherry
Family: Rosaceae (Rose) Genus: Prunus serotina
Common name: black cherry
Prunus is a genus of 120 to 400 species that contain fruitwoods like cherry, plum and almond. The species are native to North America, Asia, Europe and the Mediterranean region. All species look alike microscopically. The word prunus is the classical Latin name for the cherry tree.
Prunus serotina-American cherry, black wild cherry, cabinet cherry, chisos wild cherry, Edwards Plateau cherry, escarpment cherry, mountain black cherry, rum cherry.
Source Region: Cherry is found in the eastern half of the United States, from the plains to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. It also occurs in high elevations in Mexico.
The sapwood is light yellow , while the heartwood is generally a reddish brown, sometimes with a greenish tinge, darkening upon exposure to sunlight to a deep reddish brown with a golden luster. The wood has a mild, aromatic scent, but no characteristic taste. It is of medium density, firm, and strong, with a fine, uniform texture. The grain is generally straight. The Black Cherry tree reaches heights of up to 100 feet, about 80 feet average, and a diameter of 2 to 5 ft. It is shrubby under poor growth conditions and at the northern limit of its range. It does best on the rich, moist soil of the Appalachians. Black Cherry is moderately hard wood with a specific gravity of 0.47. Shrinkage is about average for American hardwoods, 7.1% tangential and 3.7% Radial.
Cherry is extremely popular with cabinetmakers. Cherry is easy to work, fine textured, strong and fairly durable. Highly rated in all working properties including wood bending and turning. Becomes darker and richer with age. Cherry is easy to work, finishes smoothly, and is dimensionally stable. It is easily machined. It can be sawn cleanly, turned well, and planed excellently with standard cutting angles. Screw-holding ability is good, as is gluing, except where gum streaks are present. The gum content can make it susceptible to scorching from blade friction. The scorching is best avoided with sharp tools and fast feed rates, where possible. Durability is rated as very resistant to heartwood decay. Wild black cherry has an exceptionally fine figure and almost satiny light reddish-brown color. Its figure and stable, close grain have been valued by furniture and cabinetmakers for centuries. It is light and strong. This tree's rich red heartwood makes it one of the most valuable trees in the forest. Large, veneer-grade black cherry trees can be worth many thousand dollars each. Hardwood lumber mills are constantly seeking quality sources of this species. Thus it is becoming increasingly rarer to find stands of huge black cherry trees.
The leaves and twigs contain hydrocyanic acid which could poison livestock or other animals if consumed in large quantities. Wild Cherry cough syrup is made from the reddish-brown, fragrant, and bitter inner bark.
Cherry grows from S. Canada to Georgia. Most cherry is produced in the relatively small area of southern NYS and N. PA where it can be the major forest species. Elsewhere, it is a minor population in forests.
Cherry from the harsh northern regions, or high elevation farther south, is quite different from low land southern cherry, the division occuring around the Mason Dixon line. There are strong regional preferences for which is prettiest.
The southern cherry has much less distinct growth rings and in good conditions the growth rings are widely spaced, up to 1/2". They can be almost indistinct like in poplar. The southern cherry darkens upon exposure to light and air to a much deeper red than northern cherry. In the rough it can be so dark as to resemble mahogany in color. The color and grain difference is so great that lumber from different regions should not be mixed in a piece.
Cherry can be problematic to dry as the sapwood shrinks much more than the heart wood. A board with sapwood on one side and heart on the other can curl into a trough. The very center of cherry trees usually fractures upon drying. This part of the log is usually blocked out for pallet lumber. Because of this problem and the possibility of considerable sapwood in a tree, the yield of desirable heartwood from cherry trees is unfavorable. This yield problem, and robust foreign demand, has made cherry the most expensive domestic hardwood.