May 29, 2020

For the Love of a Black Cherry Tree

Pineo Photo | The blossoms of a black cherry are small but fragrant.

Pineo Photo | The blossoms of a black cherry are small but fragrant.

• By John Chisholm •

I love black cherry trees.  I love their scented, white, columnar blooms and the vivid red and purple veins embedded within their dark green leaves.  Their cherries are small ― bitter before they’re ripe ― with a large pit.  Never mind.  I love their fruit, too.  Once dead, their wood ― a rich, deep red ― makes beautiful furniture, bowls and tool handles.  Barring that, it makes great firewood.

Unfortunately, I’m not the only one who loves them.  Black bears adore them.  They climb them, dragging the bearing branches into their mouths, breaking a great many limbs in the process.  Then they eat the leaves, twigs, stems, fruit and pits in large, unsorted mouthfuls.   Deer, porcupines, birds and hundreds of different species of insect join in.  It’s true.  Black cherry trees are on the top-ten list for tent caterpillars.  (I think they’re number 1.)  Every spring I clean out as many of their nests as possible.  Unfortunately, there are always plenty of tents beyond the reach of my malign intentions.

Beyond all that, cherry trees are subject to cherry gall and every other form of pestilence that visits fruit trees.

On this farm, we’re fortunate to have large numbers of black cherry trees.  They grow wild here, tending to reach just so tall when, for reasons that remain a mystery to me, they simply die.

Happily, there is an exception to that rule.

There’s a large, multi-stemmed black cherry tree growing on the Tay homestead.  Its gnarled, twisted and deformed bulk juts out over our field at a forty-five degree angle.  I wouldn’t put up with that from just any tree ― certainly not from an alder, birch or poplar.

It’s in the way.  There’s no doubt about that.  I admit it.  Beyond even that, it requires a lot of extra care.  Mowing around it is a nuisance.  Picking up after it takes a lot of extra time.  Yet for years now, I’ve pruned its deadwood, cleaned the tree and cherished it for ― not just its blooms and fruit ― but for its stubborn indifference to the odds stacked against it, to the bears, deer, porcupines, birds, bugs and to gravity.

That last has become an ever greater threat.   The tree has grown.  This spring, eying it, I came to the certain conclusion that with even light bending to gravity, this tree would have to admit its master eventually.  By the looks, especially at that angle, sooner rather than later.

The result?  I went overboard.  Noting that this tree was cantilevered on an aging, weathered stump, I welded closed a number of massive screw eyes.  With those in hand, I cabled that tree in position to two adjacent trees, a sugar maple and a white ash.  Oh, these support trees are large and more than capable of bearing the extra weight.  Still, I bet they don’t appreciate the added duty, particularly where their efforts support competition.  Worse even than that, another species!

Too bad for them.  With everything installed, I look at that cable today, shaking my head at the fool who wasted all that time, material and effort on just a tree.  Particularly a black cherry.  It’s not as though there’s a shortage.  If I can put up with him, those two support trees can stand the extra burden, no problem.

Then I smile.

That cable is clear, public evidence.  The fact must be obvious to everyone:

I love black cherry trees.