Sweet as pie
The Hill Country’s escarpment black cherry tree offers year-round beauty, plus that luscious fruit.
Every March, a showstopper blooms in the Hill Country. No, we’re not talking about bluebonnets. This beautiful bloomer is the escarpment black cherry, with a springtime waterfall of white blossoms, a summer full of wildlife-attracting fruit and colorful fall foliage.
Those spring flowers attract butterflies — including the viceroy, eastern tiger swallowtail and the Henry’s elfin — to nectar, along with moths and bees.
Escarpment black cherry, a distinct variety of black cherry, grows only in forested Hill Country canyons, slopes and floodplains. It soars to heights of up to 50 feet with a beautiful silvery bark and dark green, glossy leaves that transform to yellow-to-red fall foliage. Every season, this tree offers something wonderful to behold.
Those 5-inch-long clusters of showy white blooms turn into small dark red to purple-black cherries (with a single seed) in summer. The cherries are edible and usually snatched quickly by wildlife (songbirds, upland game birds and mammals).
Beyond the cherries, Prunus serotina var. eximia is toxic. Wilted leaves, twigs and bark contain cyanogenic glycoside, which breaks down during digestion and makes livestock sick.
White-tailed deer know better than to eat those wilted leaves and twigs and can digest the new leaves on the young trees. Where there is an overabundant deer population, no young trees will be left to mature if left unprotected.
The listed national champion, located in Real County (Lost Maples State Natural Area region), has a height of 62 feet with a spread of 58 feet. There’s a local Champion Big Trees tour to drive and walk to see other champion trees as well.
Another variety, the eastern black cherry (Prunus serotina var. serotina) is native to eastern North America and ranges from southeastern Canada through the eastern United States to East Texas. Its wood is used commercially for furniture and tool handles as well as for professional and scientific instruments. The fruit is used for wines and jellies, and a cough medicine has been extracted from the bark.
top: Carl Fabre | Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; inset Courtesy Steven Schwartzman, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
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