Today's tree is easy to identify all year simply by looking at its bark.
Black cherry (Prunus serotina) is a medium to large tree, 50 to 100 feet tall. Mature trees have dark colored bark that looks like burnt potato chips. The shadowy photo above accentuates the chips.
In bright light the trunk looks paler but the chips are still there, as you can see by this photo taken in full sun.
Young trees have smooth shiny bark with pale horizontal lines or lenticels. Even the twigs have lenticels that appear as spots in the picture below. The buds are alternate, small and scaled. This twig looks like it wants to open its buds, proof that it's been a weird warm winter.
Black cherries are a favorite of birds in late summer because the trees produce an abundance of small red to purple cherries, 1/3" in diameter. Foresters like the tree for it's cherry-colored wood which fetches a good price.
Keep your eyes open for black cherry trees and you'll be surprised how many you find.
(photos by Kate St. John)