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Fields, Forests & Wetlands Foods of Eastern North America

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Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila). Grows in sand dunes around the Great Lakes. (By: Super cyclist)


Season: Summer


Urban, Rural or Both: Rural mainly, planted versions are within cities


This is a vast subject: There are the native species and introduced European and Asian species - many of those grow naturalized in North America. There are hybrids of different species, and variations within species. For example, with just the Sand Cherry, there are four recognized varieties.

Cherries are in the Prunus family which includes Cherry, Plum, Peach, Nectarines, Apricot and Almond. Native to the area I'm from are three Cherries, and two Plums. Plus, there are introduced varieties of Sweet and Sour Cherry and Plums.

The leaves of all within the Prunus family are arranged alternately (not in opposite pairs) on the stems. They are always simple leaves (not compound) and have "saw tooth" margins or edges. The Canada Plum has a double sawtooth, and the American Plum can have single or double sawtooth margins of the leaves. The fruit all have a single stone (seed).

The bark of the Prunus family is distinctive in most cases, helping to identify them as you approach the tree. All but the Chokecherry have a thin, greyish skin-like covering on the young twigs that will rub off or wash away in time. Since Almond trees are in the Prunus family, it is not surprising that the young twigs of all within the family have an almond taste and smell when broken, but the taste is bitter - DO NOT swallow after chewing on a twig, spit it out, as some in this family are poisonous on every part of the tree except for the flesh on the fruit.




Black Cherry

Black Cherry (Prunus serotina). Native to Eastern North America. Can be a large tree, and usually very straight. There is one central leaf vein from the stem to tip with side veins coming off, sweeping toward the tip. The twigs are thin and reddish brown. The Cherry is about a centimeter (3/8 inch) diameter and has a five star shaped calyx (remnants of flower pedals) that stays with the Cherry, and is large for the Cherry's size - a distinguishing feature. The short stemmed, almost black Cherries come off the twigs in singles - not hanging in doubles like the image most think of with Cherries. Expect to find Cherries in August and early September. Fruit is good, with a slight bitter edge.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Cherries & Plums page.


Description:


Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. .


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Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) leaves and flowers. (By: Rasbak GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


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Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) leaf and twig up close. (By: Krzysztof ZIarnek, Kenraiz CC BY-SA 3.0)


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Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) flower up close. (By: Krzysztof ZIarnek, Kenraiz CC BY-SA 3.0)


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Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) young tree bark. (By: Kenraiz CC BY-SA 3.0)


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Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) mature tree bark. (By: Chhe)


Black Cherry bark

This is a good example of the transition from the smoother bark with horizontal lenticels (checking) on the right side, to the mature bark that is broken up into plate-like areas.


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Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) leaves and cherries. (By: Rasbak GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)


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Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) fall colors. (By: Famartin Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)


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Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) seeds/pits. (Steve Hurst, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)




Chokecherry

Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana). Native to North America. A multi-stemmed bush or small tree found in open areas, often at the edges of forests, along old fences, by streams or where land has been cleared many years before and left - abandoned fields. Not in woods, as it will die in shade. Cherry is about 3/8 inch diameter, dark red to blackish, and appears to have no flower parts remaining (very, very small remnants). Sharp and dry tasting, but I like it - makes your mouth pucker! Expect to find in August and early September. Cherries come from near ends of twigs, in ones.

Although this is not a favourite cherry to eat raw, it makes for very good jams & jellies, as well as being good for baked deserts.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Cherries & Plums page.


Description:


Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. .


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Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) leaves and flowers. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)


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Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana). The color of the cheries can range from purplish-black to red. These are a good example of the purplish-black cheries. (By: Charles de Mille-Isles Attribution 2.0 Generic)


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Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana). These are an example of red ones. (By: National Park Service, USA)


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Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) fall colors. (By: Famartin Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)


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Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) seeds/pits. (By: Steve Hurst, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)


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Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. Wetland flora: Field office illustrated guide to plant species. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.)




Pin Cherry

Pin Cherry (Prunus pensylvanica). Native to North America. Expect to find this one in open areas, or areas that were cleared years ago and left. Has a single or multiple trunk, can grow up to 50 feet tall or more, with a trunk no bigger than a foot across. The bark is distinctive, and a very good way of distinguishing it from other cherry trees. It has smooth bark (unless tree is very mature) that is reddish brown, with widely spaced horizontal lenticels (checking) - powdery orange in color. The Cherry is sour, but I like it. It is very good for cooking with, and I understand it is starting to be grown commercially. August and early September for the Cherry. When I lived in Central Ontario, these were one of the first trees to take over cleared or burned land. They can grow very fast, and develop thick horizontal roots that seem well adapted to growing in thin soils on bedrock. Soon though, conifers would come in and shade them out. They were very happy to take over the clearings under power lines. Obviously, birds play a role in spreading these, as they always seemed to pop up right under where birds would perch - like under the utility lines, or along fences.

Not the best tasting cherry uncooked to most people's taste, but a very good cooked cherry in any recipe that would use "sour" cherries. Due to their small size, there is more work per volume of cherries in gathering than with other sour species.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Cherries & Plums page.


Description:


Pin Cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. .


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Pin Cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) illustration. (By: M.S. del, J.N.Fitch, lith.)


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Pin Cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) flowers. (By: Halava CC BY-SA 3.0)


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Pin Cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) cherries. (By: Homer Edward Price Attribution 2.0 Generic)


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Pin Cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) bark. (By: Halava CC BY-SA 3.0)




Sand Cherry

Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila). Native to North America, found most commonly around Great Lake region in sand dunes. If you find one Sand Cherry bush (low to ground), look around, you will probably find many more - they tend to form what are known as clonal colonies, that is, there are whole patches of them that are basically the same plant spreading over a large area. It keeps sending shoots out from the roots. There are a few varieties of this Cherry, the only one I know is the Prunus pumila L. var. pumila, the Great Lakes Sand Cherry. It's a good name, as I've only encountered them when on sand dunes or gravel right by Lake Huron or Erie. Cherries are about 13-15 mm (1/2 to 3/5 inch) diameter, dark purple to almost black in color and is an early Cherry - ready to eat in early summer. I like these Cherries, but they are a bit tart and dry, and like the Chokecherry, will make your mouth pucker. I haven't used them for cooking, but I've read they make a very good jam. Oval, yellow-green shiny leaves, sometimes with a blueish hue reminiscent of sage leaves, and shaped like sage leaves - an even elliptic, longer and thinner and pointed on the ends. I understand some varieties have red leaves. The ones I know have leaf veins that are much lighter in color than the leaf itself, so the veins really stand out.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Cherries & Plums page.


Description:


Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


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Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila). This one is from around the Great Lakes. (By: Super cyclist)


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Great Lakes Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila var pumila). This is the variant that is common on sand dunes around the Great Lakes. (By: Troy Weldy)


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Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila) flowers. (By: Superior National Forest Attribution 2.0 Generic)




Sour Cherry

Sour Cherry (Prunus cerasus). Native to Europe and Asia and now naturalized in North America. This is the Cherry that is popular for its health properties. A very nice looking tree, and the Cherries themselves, are classic "Cherry" looking. There is the bright red, or red with a hint of orange Amarelle Cherry, and the darker red Morello Cherry. The Cherries grow in clusters on the ends of the twigs and further up in clusters. This tree has beautiful, showy white flowerings in the spring. There are numerous cultivars of this tree. This is the Cherry that used most often for baked goods and jams. When raw, there is the mouth puckering quality of most native North American Cherries, but like the native species, that goes away when cooked. Very commonly found as wild trees.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Cherries & Plums page.


Description:


Sour Cherry (Prunus cerasus) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


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Sour Cherry (Prunus cerasus) illustration. The detail in this is truly amazing. (By: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany)


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Sour Cherry (Prunus cerasus) in flower. (By: Andrew Butko CC BY-SA 3.0)


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Sour Cherry (Prunus cerasus) leaves and fruit. (By: böhringer friedrich Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic)


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Sour Cherry (Prunus cerasus) leaf up close. (By: Walter Siegmund GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2)




Sweet Cherry or Wild Cherry

Sweet Cherry or Wild Cherry (Prunus avium). Native to Europe, Asia and Africa and now naturalized in North America. There are many variations (cultivars) of the Sweet Cherry, and many have naturalized in eastern North America, so it is not uncommon to find them in the wild. This is the tree that most of the Sweet Cherries sold in stores are from - it is the least tart of all the Cherries. Every part of this tree is toxic except for the ripe red flesh of the Cherry. This Cherry very often is in pairs on the tree - the stem of each Cherry meets at the tree. Even if there is a cluster, very often they come off in pairs. This tree is easy to recognize from the bark. It is brown with a purplish hue (sometimes with a hint of orange) and very noticeable brownish grey horizontal lenticels (checking) when the tree is young. When older, the lenticels become thick and dark blackish-brown, often splitting open. One very distinguishing feature of this tree is, just where the stem of the leaf meets the leaf bottom, there are two little red dots - glands. The leaves are downy underneath and almost shiny on the top - and like all Cherries, the edges of the leaf are sawtooth. I find this tree all over in the Carolinian areas of Ontario, along old fence lines, in woods and fields. If I didn't know better, I'd bet it was a native tree it is so common. Often hard to find any of the Cherries, as birds very often clean the trees out - hence the Latin name of the tree: Prunus "avium".


Growing this plant in your home garden:

For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Cherries & Plums page.


Description:


Sweet Cherry or Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) range. Distribution map courtesy of U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA Natural Resources Service) and used in accordance with their policies.


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Sweet Cherry or Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) tree. (By: Konrad Lackerbeck Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic)


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Sweet Cherry or Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) leaf glands. This is the best way to confirm or deny this is a Sweet Cherry tree by checking for these glands on the leaf stem near where the leaf blade starts. (By: André Abrahami Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic)


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Sweet Cherry or Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) blossoms. (By: Andrei Stroe CC BY-SA 3.0)


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Sweet Cherry or Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) cherries. (By: MPF CC BY-SA 3.0)


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Sweet Cherry or Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) seeds/pits. (By: Steve Hurst, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)




Canada Plum or Black Plum

Canada Plum or Black Plum (Prunus nigra). Native to North America. This is a small, crooked, irregular looking tree that has zig-zag shaped branches. The leaf is a fat looking oval with a drawn out pointed end. This tree often has thorns on it. The Plum has reddish-orange skin with yellow, juicy flesh. Some find it too sour, some like it. I like a little fresh, but not a lot. Most common use for the fruit is for making Plum jam. It can also be dried and stored. The Plum is about 2.5cm (1 inch) diameter, or sometimes just a bit larger. Expect to find this Plum in August and early September. Even though it is most common in Southern Ontario where I live, I don't see it that often, because right where I live there isn't any limestone close to the surface. When I travel to areas where there is limestone, I see it often in fields and along fence lines. Very often I see it on limestone hills like the Niagara Escarpment in open sections where bigger trees don't do as well. If it is happy where it is growing, it will form thickets. Because of the thorns on some of these, and the thickets, it can be a chore to harvest the fruit.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Cherries & Plums page.


Description:


Canada Plum or Black Plum (Prunus nigra) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. .


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Canada Plum or Black Plum (Prunus nigra). leaves and fruit. Note the thorns. (By: Harriet L. Keeler)


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Canada Plum or Black Plum (Prunus nigra) seed/stone. (Steve Hurst, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)


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Canada Plum or Black Plum (Prunus nigra) drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 323.)




American Plum or Wild Plum

American Plum or Wild plum (Prunus americana). Native to North America. The American Plum likes wetter areas, such as beside wetlands, and edges of creeks and rivers. Because of this, there is a warning when gathering fruit from this tree - it likes to inhabit the same places as Poison Ivy, Western Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix). Be sure you know how to identify all three: Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac before you go walking toward what you think may be an American Plum. The orange to red Plum is ripe in August or early September. Careful when picking, this tree has thorns. There are many, many varieties of this tree, and some produce sweet fruit, some sour. Like the Canada Plum, the trunk has lenticels (checks). The bark is brown with a hint of red to grey. It too will have vertical splits in the bark that peel back. The bark exposed will get a scaly look. The tree is not tolerant of shade, and in the right conditions will send up suckers and form thick areas of very dense growth, often utilized for its ability to act as a wind break.


Growing this plant in your home garden:

For detailed growing instructions, go to my Wild Foods Home Garden website Cherries & Plums page.


Description:


American Plum or Wild plum (Prunus americana) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr.


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American Plum or Wild plum (Prunus americana) tree. (By: Аимаина хикари Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)


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American Plum or Wild plum (Prunus americana) in flower. (By: Matt Lavin Attribution 2.0 Generic)


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American Plum or Wild plum (Prunus americana) blossoms. (By: Andrew Ciscel Attribution 2.0 Generic)


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American Plum or Wild plum (Prunus americana) seed/stone. (Steve Hurst, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)


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American Plum or Wild plum (Prunus americana) drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 323.)





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