Black cherry - northern hardwood forest

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System: Terrestrial
Subsystem: Forest
PA Ecological Group(s): Appalachian-Northeast Mesic Forest

Global Rank:G4 rank interpretation
State Rank: S4

General Description

This forest type is characterized by at least 40% relative cover by black cherry (Prunus serotina) and is most characteristic of the North Central Appalachian ecoregion in Pennsylvania. Common associates are sugar maple (Acer saccharum), sweet birch (Betula lenta), yellow birch (B. alleghaniensis), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), and oaks (Quercus spp.; usually Q. rubra). Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and/or eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) may be present at less than 25% relative cover. Shrubs include witch-hobble (Viburnum lantanoides), striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), Allegheny blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis), mountain holly (Ilex montana), witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), and shadbush (Amelanchier arborea). Common herbaceous species include hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), New York fern (Thelypteris noveboracensis), common wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia), ground pine (Lycopodium spp.), whorled wood aster (Oclemena acuminata), violets (Viola spp.), Indian cucumber-root (Medeola virginiana), wild-oats (Uvularia sessilifolia), shorthusk (Brachyelytrum erectum, B. aristosum), Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), and common wood-sorrel (Oxalis acetosella). More information is needed to describe preferred soil and topographic conditions where the Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forest type has been documented, however, it has been frequently documented on dry/dry-mesic, acidic soils in Pennsylvania.

Rank Justification

The Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forest is widespread in the northern tier and higher elevations of Pennsylvania and is less common in the remaining regions.


  • Total tree canopy cover is between 40-80%
  • Black cherry accounts for at least 40% relative cover in the canopy/subcanopy
  • In general, it has less diverse groundcover compared to Northern Hardwood Forests

* limited to sites with higher soil calcium
Vascular plant nomenclature follows Rhoads and Block (2007). Bryophyte nomenclature follows Crum and Anderson (1981).

International Vegetation Classification Associations:

USNVC Crosswalk:


Representative Community Types:

Central Appalachian Northern Hardwood Forest (CEGL006045)

NatureServe Ecological Systems:


NatureServe Group Level:

Appalachian-Northeast Mesic Forest (G742)

Origin of Concept

Fike, J. 1999. Terrestrial and palustrine plant communities of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory. Harrisburg, PA. 86 pp.

Fleming, G., Largay, E., Gawler, S. C., Vanderhorst, J. 2018. Central Appalachian Northern Hardwood Forest (CEGL006045). NatureServe Explorer [web application]. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available (Accessed: February 7, 2022).

Pennsylvania Community Code*

BC : Black Cherry - Northern Hardwood Forest

*(DCNR 1999, Stone 2006)

Similar Ecological Communities

This type can be very similar to the Northern Hardwood Forest type, which has less than 40% cover of black cherry in canopy, and typically has more sugar maple, ash, yellow birch, or sweet birch.

Fike Crosswalk

Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forest

Conservation Value

Pennsylvania is part of the core range for commercial black cherry production and has been referred to as the “black cherry capital of the world.” Nearly 30% of the total volume of black cherry is in Pennsylvania, and the growing conditions within the northwest and northcentral portions of Pennsylvania contribute to its high quality (State of the Forest Products Industry in Pennsylvania, 2020). The Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forest is common in the northern tier of Pennsylvania, especially the Northern Central Appalachians (Unglaciated Allegheny High Plateau) and has been documented in the Central Appalachian and Ridge and Valley regions.

Following timber harvest, this type may establish on ridgetops that were formerly occupied by oaks. Rarely, this community supports state-listed plants (such as the great-spurred violet, Viola selkirkii). A number of bird species that prefer forest interior conditions will occupy Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forests, including the ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla), red-eyed vireo (Vireo olivaceus), and scarlet tanager* (Piranga olivacea; National Audubon Society/PNHP 2017). Other breeding bird species that utilize Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forests include the indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea), rose-breasted grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus), and white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis; Sargent et al., 2017).

*SGCN species


While there are no short-term conservation risks for the Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forest at this time, this type could experience significant changes to the composition or distribution in a changing climate. Research suggests that species that are currently dominant in our Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forests, such as sugar maple, eastern hemlock, and red maple could become less common in both high and low emissions scenarios. Black cherry specifically is known to be resistant to drought and is expected experience an increase in range with climate change (Iverson et al., 2008; Peters et al., 2020). Forest pests/pathogens could significantly impact tree species in this community type, including eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) and the cherry scallop shell moth (Hydria prunivorata), hemlock wooly adelgid (HWA; Adelges tsugae), and beech bark disease. Invasive plant species such as garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) threaten the viability of the Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forest.

Throughout much of its range, the Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forest community type has experienced forest fragmentation from roads, shallow gas development, and habitat conversion. Furthermore, the core range of Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forests overlaps with the shale gas region in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and New York. Continued development of the shale gas region, specifically the Marcellus Shale, may result in additional fragmentation throughout the Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forest range in Pennsylvania. Edge habitats created by forest fragmentation increase the risk of invasion from non-native species and decrease wildlife habitat for species requiring continuous forest blocks.


Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forests can be sustainably managed; however, forest conditions may require a specific plan to achieve management goals. Private landowners can consult with service foresters at the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry for more information on sustainable forest management practices that are best suited for their property. Management of invasive species is encouraged, and management of white-tailed deer could improve forest regeneration in forests experiencing high levels of herbivory.

Research Needs

Monitoring of Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forests in northern Pennsylvania could benefit from adaptive management efforts in the context of climate change. Shifts in species dominance, particularly black cherry, could impact the distribution of this community type as it is currently described (Bauer et al., 2016; Shortle et al., 2015). Providing periodic updates to community mapping throughout Pennsylvania may be an effective monitoring tool in the future. Maintaining up-to-date maps of plant communities is both important for rare species as well as more common species for ecological modeling efforts.


Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forests account for approximately 5% of mapped forests on State Forests and State Game Lands. Historical data from land-survey notes reported cherry to have a frequency of about 9% in (approximately) the Allegheny National Forest (Lutz, 1930; Marquis, 1975). In 2019, black cherry accounted for 11.4% of Pennsylvania forest inventory (State of the Forest Products Industry in Pennsylvania, 2020). In the Allegheny National Forest, and probably throughout much of the North Central Appalachians, beech and hemlock were dominant species historically (around 31% and 27%, respectively; Lutz 1930). The current importance of the Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forest is most likely related to succession that followed wide-spread logging and fire in the High Allegheny Plateau in the early 20th century (Fleming et al. 2018). Fowells (1965) suggests that even as Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forests mature, they perhaps shift in dominance to maple, beech, or hemlock (transitioning to Northern Hardwood Forest or Hemlock (white-pine) – Northern Hardwood Forest). Black cherry may persist as a component of these stands as a result of high reproductive output and black cherry’s ability to colonize gaps where other shade tolerant species are less competitive.

Range Map

range map

Pennsylvania Range

The Black Cherry – Northern Hardwood Forest is found in the following USEPA Level III (Level IV) Ecoregions: Northern Central Appalachians (62), Ridge and Valley (67) and Central Appalachians (69).

Global Distribution

Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia

Bauer, A., Farrell, R., & Goldblum, D. (2016). The geography of forest diversity and community changes under future climate conditions in the eastern United States. Ecoscience, 23, 41-53.

Fowells, H. A. (1965). Silvics of forest trees of the United States. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.

Iverson, L. R., Prasad, A. M., Matthews, S. N., & Peters, M. (2008). Estimating potential habitat for 134 eastern US tree species under six climate scenarios. Forest Ecology and Management, 254(3), 390-406.

Lutz, H. J. (1930). Original forest composition in northwestern Pennsylvania as indicated by early land survey notes. Journal of Forestry, 28(8), 1098-1103.

Marquis, D. A. (1975). The Allegheny hardwood forests of Pennsylvania. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-15. Upper Darby, PA: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 32 p., 15.

Peters, M. P., Prasad, A. M., Matthews, S. N., & Iverson, L. R. (2020). Climate change tree atlas, Version 4. U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station and Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, Delaware, OH.

Sargent, S., Yeany III, D., Michel, N., & Zimmerman, E. (2017). Forest Interior Bird Habitat Relationships in the Pennsylvania Wilds, Final Report for WRCP-14507. Audubon Pennsylvania, National Audubon Society.

Shortle, J., Abler, D., Blumsack, S., Britson, A., Fang, K., Kemanian, A., Knight, P., McDill, M., Najjar, R., Nassry, M., Ready, R., Ross, A., Rydzik, M., Shen, C., Wardrop, D., & Yetter, S. (2015). Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment Update. The Pennsylvania State University, University Park.

State of the Forest Products Industry in Pennsylvania. (2020). Pennsylvania Hardwoods Development Council, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Cite as:
Braund, J., E. Zimmerman, A. Hnatkovich, and J. McPherson. 2022. Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program. Black cherry - northern hardwood forest Factsheet. Available from: Date Accessed: July 23, 2024

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