cherry trees in the woods

Asked April 6, 2018, 4:22 PM EDT

Right now (early April), beautiful cherry trees with white or pink flowers are blooming in the woods, especially in Rock Creek Park. they usually have a tall, airy shape, and often peep out at the edge of the woods among other trees, sending a branch or two angling out to get more sunlight. they do not have the shape of cherry trees one sees in orchards, rather they have an ethereal presence, and they will grow very tall. bark is typical 'bumpy' cherry, and later on they will bear small black cherries, much smaller than but similar in appearance and taste (more intense, I'd say) to the Bing cherries we buy in the market. They do not correspond to any native cherry tree in several native tree books I have. For example, the flowers do not grow in panicles, and so are unlike the native black cherry, and they are very conspicuous, and the fruits are borne as in an orchard cherry, not in clusters as with the native black cherry. Morever, the native cherry in my back yard is not blooming yet. Are these woodland cherries just wild seedlings from normal fruit tree cultivars? They are quite widespread in the park, and are beautiful trees, in my view equal in beauty to japanese cherries, but more subtle and with a very different growth habit.

Montgomery County Maryland plant identification fruits trees

4 Responses

Would you be able to send us photos of the trees you are describing? Pictures of the flowers and bark would be helpful. There are several types of cherries (Prunus sp.) that are invasive in our area. (They are listed on our invasive species list: Other possibilities might be serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.) or crabapples.


thanks you for suggesting the invasive species list. On consulting the list, prunus avium seems the most likely, though most of the examples in Rock Creek park and vicinity are pink, not white. I do know one place in the woods where there are several white flowering ones, but even there the surrounding ones are pink. I could not get photos, most flowers too high up on 30-40 foot trees, and now gone.

as I noted, I've eaten the fruit. pretty hard to confuse a cherry with a crab apple. the crab apples are also abundant at the borders of the woods, and are blooming now, cherries are gone, and anyway crab apple flower is easily distinguished from a cherry. We don't seem to have service berry near here, but in any event photos on line indicate they have a berry-like fruit, not like a cherry.

Prunus avium may be an invasive plant, but it is a beautiful tree. I do still wonder if these are seedlings from ordinary orchard cherries, scattered by the birds, as the seedlings would not, I think, preserve the characteristics of the parent plant.

A tall graceful pink-flowered cherry tree such as you describe has been showing up more and more in natural areas in this region. It is just starting to draw attention.
It is not native, unfortunately, but of course the birds spread the fruit. It is very shade tolerant, unlike domesticated (orchard) cherry trees. It's very possible it is a hybrid of introduced cherry tree species.

One factor in its spread is that deer do not eat cherry trees, and the rampant over-population of deer are eating almost all the seedlings of native trees--leaving the non-native ones. As fewer native trees exist, they will produce fewer seedlings until our parks and natural areas are entirely foreign--which will be devastating for the wildlife and entire ecology. Deer control is a vital part of this equation.


Thank you for the additional info. I've admired these trees for years, just have not found anything about them. They are not a recent growth, at least not near Rock Creek park.
Agree about the deer, we have a dreadful deer population problem. Perhaps 20 years ago, we saw deer signs and tracks in the park, but never saw them in daylight or in the neighborhood. Now, they bed down in the backyards of some of my neightbors' houses, I think they've learned about deer culling within the park, so seek safety out of the park. And also the bushes they feed on in the park are eaten so far up that you can see through vast stretches of the woods where before there was no visibility at al because of the understory. Hadn't thought about the deer and cherry trees, but very clear they are harming the habitat. As one example, the many ducks we once saw in the park have nearly disappeared, no place to nest, I suspect, because the deer have eaten all the cover for their nests.