A large deciduous tree, reaching in its most favoured situations a height of 80 to 100 ft, and occasionally found with trunks 16 ft in circumference. In England it is usually 30 to 50 ft high, the young bark glabrous, bitter, aromatic, not unpleasant to the taste. Leaves oval-lanceolate, sometimes narrowly obovate, tapering towards both ends, 2 to 51⁄2 in. long, and from 1 to 13⁄4 in. wide, glabrous and shining above, paler beneath, and usually hairy along the midrib, margins set with shallow incurved teeth; stalk 1⁄4 to 1 in. long. Flowers white, 1⁄3 in. in diameter, produced during late May and June in cylindrical racemes 4 to 6 in. long, 3⁄4 in. diameter. Fruits black, 1⁄3 in. across, round, but rather flattened like an orange.
Native of N. America, where it is widely spread, reaching from Nova Scotia to Florida, and westwards to Dakota, Texas, Arizona, etc. At its finest, which is in the Allegheny Mountains of Virginia, it is probably the largest of the genus. In Great Britain it thrives very well, and makes a handsome middle-sized tree of graceful habit, whose dark glittering foliage in summer very much resembles that of a Portugal laurel, but it is of course deciduous, and dies off a pleasing yellow. The flowers are borne profusely, and some trees ripen abundant fruits; in the United States the latter are used for flavouring rum and brandy, and for that purpose are said to be equal to the Morello cherry. I am not aware that this tree has been tried under forest conditions here, but its timber is much valued by cabinet-makers, and judging by its behaviour at Kew it will thrive better than many trees on sandy ground. The largest specimen there is 65 ft high, with a trunk 61⁄4 ft in girth (1967).
Other specimens recorded recently are: Tubney Wood, Oxon., two specimens pl. 1906, 70 × 4 ft and 60 × 41⁄4 ft (1906); Westonbirt, Glos., 60 × 51⁄2 ft (1968); Hewell Grange, Worcs., 68 × 7 ft (1963); Arley Castle, Worcs., 70 × 41⁄2 ft (1966).
cv. ‘Asplenifolia’. – Leaves deeply and irregularly cut at the margins.
cv. ‘Pendula’. – A pretty tree with weeping branches, usually budded on tall stems of P. padus.
f. phelloides Schwer. P. serotina var. salicifolia Nichols, ex Henry, not (Kunth) Koehne – Leaves lanceolate. Schwerin’s description was made from a tree distributed early this century by Hesse’s nurseries under the name “Cerasus virginiana pyramidalis salicifolia”. A tree at Kew, planted around 1880, had similar foliage but was probably of different origin. The leaves hung loose and pendent, like those of a willow, and the branches were also pendulous.
P. salicifolia Kunth P. serotina var. salicifolia (Kunth) Koehne; P. capuli Cav.; P. capollin Zucc. – Closely allied to P. serotina, differing in its more leathery, almost glabrous, lanceolate leaves, and its larger, edible fruits. It has a wide distribution, from Mexico to Ecuador and Peru. The specific epithets capuli and capollin (see synonyms) are two forms of the vernacular name for it.