Monday, February 1, 2010

Escarpment Black Cherry Tree (Prunus serotina var. eximia)

A few days ago, in the rain which we never take for granted after the last two years of desert-dry, we planted an Escarpment Black Cherry tree, (Prunus serotina var. eximia), a native to the Edwards Plateau in Central Texas and the Rio Grand Plains.  The Edwards Plateau formation is bigger than New England, but geographically, it's not a large area for a limited species to call home.

I'm excited about adding the Escarpment Black Cherry because it's a (small) step in preserving a disappearing species.  And it's beautiful and a wildlife 'two-fer'.  Lovely foliage with panicles of white butterfly-attracting flowers from March through November, followed by fruit for birds and wildlife.  

The trees are rare in the wild because deer love them.  As a result, it's limited in the Hill Country to the sides of cliffs and bluffs too hard for deer to browse.  We fenced our baby as soon as it was in the ground.

In good circumstances, Escarpment Black Cherry is reported to grow 35-50 feet.  I don't expect it to get big on our site.  Our slope is modest but the soil isn't soil, it's rocks with bits of organic matter in between.  Full sun and no irrigation, so after my Escarpment Black Cherry is established, it will have to live on what falls from the sky.  The same as the two Desert Willows and the Apache Plume on this slope.

The Lady Bird plant database says Escarpment Black Cherry prefers moist, well-drained soil.  I'm sure that's true.  Almost any tree in it's right mind prefers moist, well-drained soil.  But David Will, the horticultulist who grew my tree, knows more about native plants than almost anyone and he says the tree will do fine in this spot.  He's been right about everything else on our acre so we're trusting him on this too.

I asked David for one of these trees a few years ago.  He didn't have one, or a source for one; I had to wait until he grew it.  Eighteen months later, drought-driven-deer raided his nursery.  My tree was eaten.  I let go of the hope of bringing this bit of the Hill Country home.  After last summer, I'd given up hope anyway on planting in our yard.

Then last August, we had rain.  And again in September and October and November and December.  Now in January and it looks like the first week of February too.  

The wildflower seeds I put out in the autumns of 2007 and 2008, the ones that didn't come up because the ground was hard and shriveled, have grown a baby-green carpet at the front of our lot.  

Spring will riot across our place in a month or two.  And I have hope again.  Up the slope beyond the driveway is an Escarpment Black Cherry tree that says so.

Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.


  1. I think we're going to have a beautiful spring too- good, cold weather and lots of rain. I can't wait!

  2. This is the first I've heard of the Escarpment Black Cherry. Here's to a hardy tree with cherries for all. No chance for humans to consume the cherries, I take it?

  3. You know how much I love reading about plants and trees -- and this piece is no exception. I wasn't familiar with the BE Cherry either. I can't wait to see more photos of it as it grows.

    And I love your last lines about having hope again. Isn't it amazing, how nature gives that to us?

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Ms. Moon, phd in yogurtry and Cindy. It's fun to have friends who love the same things.

    The cherries are edible raw or cooked into jelly/desserts or made into wine. If you get them before the birds do.

  5. Sounds like a good one. Hope the deer leave it alone. They eat almost everything here.

  6. I've never heard of the Escarpment Black Cherry - sounds like a win-win tree, if you can keep the deer away and the birds leave you some cherries! Here's to an awesome Texas spring!

  7. I'll be interested to see how the tree looks when it leafs out. I'm not sure I've seen one before or not.

  8. Okay, this tree is family now.
    You'll keep us posted now and then, and we'll have a virtual cherry tasting soon.
    I'd like to think about spring, but we have a ways to go here. Those first signs are like miracles when they come. Sprouting up confirmation of life against all odds.
    I have already retired a few clients, so am looking forward to enjoying gardening a bit more again.
    Balance in everything.

  9. Hi Kathleen, i love also mysteries and my post on the nipple plant is a bit mysterious too, why it has lots of thorns! They say there is no such thing as coincidences, and i believe that. That makes life and the world more meaningful, isnt it.

    To reply to your question in my site about the mallows in your area. Yes, because hibiscus is actually sometimes called red mallows in your part of the world. Actually they are of the same family, Malvaceae, and have a lot of Genus and species. In fact our okra is one of the Genus, as in Abelmoschus. If you will look at their flowers, okra and hibiscus have almost the same form. Coincidence? Mystery? maybe serendipitous. lol

  10. What fun to look towards - the growing up of your tree baby. A hearty "well done!" to you for planting, fencing, and protecting your rare native.

    Do they grow from cherry pits? (I know nothing of them obviously). Does that mean you might be able to share starts with others in our area? Just think, you might be the impetus for the resurgence of a rarity. How much fun would that legacy be?!

  11. I love this story!
    I totally wanted to cry for the poor little tree that got eaten before it even had a chance to go home. . .

    You sound so hopeful and optimistic, it warms my heart, and believe me, I will be ROOTING for your teeny tiny little baby tree! I believe he can make it, too!


My readers are all geniuses. Can't wait to see what you have to say.