Usually a shrub in the wild state, 2 to 15 ft high, occasionally a tree, deciduous, with grey, glabrous branchlets. Leaves varying from broadly oval to broadly obovate, with a short abrupt point, finely toothed, 11⁄2 to 5 in. long, two-thirds as wide, glabrous, shining, and dark green above, paler beneath, with tufts of down in the vein-axils beneath; stalk 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long, with two or more glands. Flowers white, 1⁄3 in. or rather more across, produced in racemes 3 to 6 in. long, 1 in. wide, terminating short leafy shoots. Fruits dark red, round, 1⁄3 in. across, very harsh to the taste.
Native of the eastern and central United States and Canada; introduced to England in 1724, but not often seen now. It is much rarer in gardens than its near ally, P. serotina, which has a black rather than a red fruit and proportionately narrower leaves. Also, in P. serotina the leaves have blunt, appressed teeth and the calyx is persistent in fruit; in the present species the teeth are spreading and pointed, and the calyx deciduous. P. virginiana flowers well during May in England, and is pretty then, but does not bear fruit so freely as our native bird cherry.
var. demissa (Torr. & Gr.) Torr. Cerasus demissa Nutt. ex Torr. & Gr.; P. demissa Nutt. ex Dietr. – An erect shrub or small tree. Leaves usually slightly cordate at the base and downy beneath. Fruits dark red. Native of western N. America.
f. leucocarpa (S. Wats.) Haynie – Fruits white.
var. melanocarpa (A. Nels.) Sarg. Cerasus demissa var. melanocarpa A. Nels. – Leaves glabrous beneath, rather thick. Fruits black. Native mainly of the Rocky Mountains.
cv. ‘Nana’. – Of dwarf habit.
cv. ‘Shubert’. – Leaves at first green, but becoming purple by June. An American variety of recent introduction to Britain.