A native found from the Great Plains to the Eastern seaboard from Mexico to Canada, this pioneer species uses its plentiful seed production to establish rapidly in recently disturbed habitats as well as across floodplains and forests. It is commonly identified by the black knot fungal disease that forms hard, black, tumor-like growths around the branches of affected trees. Black cherry is not closely related to the commonly cultivated cherries that are seen in grocery stores. The cherries it produces provide food for numerous bird species, though other parts of the are often poisonous to other species. In fact, its young twigs, hold small amounts of cyanide compounds that are used as a defense against herbivory, which also gives them a nutty fragrance when scratched.
Radiocarbon dating from seeds and leaves found in the Hinds Cave in Texas has revealed the use of black cherry fruit dating back 5,000 years. Indigenous tribes in the Eastern half of North America, including Cherokee, the Chippewa, the Menominee, the Ojibwa, and more, prepared the fruits in a variety of ways.