Susquehana Sand Cherry
Prunus pumila susquehanae
Rose family (Rosaceae)

Description: This shrub is about 2-6' tall with ascending branches and an irregular crown. Older branches are reddish brown with scattered white lenticels, or sometimes with a light gray coating that peels off to reveal darker bark below. Young shoots are light green and either glabrous or short-pubescent. Along these branches and shoots, there are alternate leaves about 1-2" long and -1" across; most of these leaves are tilted upward (ascending). The leaves are broadly elliptic-oblong or obovate with appressed glandular teeth along their middle to outer margins. The upper leaf surface is yellowish green to medium green and glabrous, while the lower surface is pale green and glabrous. The petioles are -" long.

From the axils of the leaves, there occasionally develops small umbels of flowers. Individual flowers are about " across, consisting of 5 white spreading petals, a light green calyx with 5 lobes, 15-20 stamens, and a pistil with a style. The petals are larger than the lobes of the short-tubular calyx. The calyx lobes are oval-ovate in shape and minutely toothed along their margins. The blooming period occurs during late spring and lasts about 2 weeks. The flowers are replaced by drupes that are ovoid to globoid in shape, becoming about 1/3" (8 mm.) across and dark purple to black at maturity. Each drupe has juicy flesh and contains a single seed (pit or small stone). The root system is woody and branching.

Cultivation: The preference is full sun, dry conditions, and sandy soil. If this shrub is grown in moist fertile soil, it will become larger in size (up to 8' or more) than what normally occurs in its native habitat.

Range & Habitat: The native Susquehana Sand Cherry is restricted to northern Illinois, where it is uncommon. Habitats include dry sand prairies, inland sand dunes, and foredunes along Lake Michigan. The root system of Susquehana Sand Cherry plays a role in stabilizing sand dunes; it also adds organic matter to the sandy soil, setting the stage for the succession of vegetation that is less tolerant of sterile sand.

Faunal Associations: There is an abundance of information about floral-faunal relationships for cherry trees and shrubs (Prunus spp.), but very little is available about the Susquehana Sand Cherry specifically. Generally, the nectar and pollen of the flowers attract such insect visitors as bumblebees (Bombus spp.), Andrenid bees (Andrena spp.), Halictid bees (Halictus spp., Lasioglossum spp., etc.), Syrphid flies, Calliphorid flies, Tachinid flies, and other flies. Less often, butterflies and skippers may visit the flowers for nectar. Other insects feed on the foliage and other parts of these trees and shrubs. The caterpillars of two moths, Zale lunifera (Bold-Based Zale) and Prionapteryx nebulifera (Clouded Veneer), have been observed to feed on Susquehanna Sand Cherry. More broadly, the caterpillars of many other moths are known to feed on cherry trees and shrubs (see Moth Table), as do the caterpillars of such butterflies as Limenitis arthemis astyanax (Red-Spotted Purple) and Satyrium titus (Coral Hairstreak). Other insect feeders include the larvae of Amphicerus bicaudatus (Apple Twig Borer), Tricholochmaea cavicollis (Cherry Leaf Beetle) and other leaf beetles, Rhopalosiphum cerasifoliae (Chokecherry Aphid) and other aphids, Eratoneura ballista and other leafhoppers, the larvae of Onycholyda luteicornis and other sawflies, the larvae of Rhagoletis cingulata (Eastern Cherry Fruit Fly), and the thrips Liothrips pruni (which is found under bark). Cherry fruits are a favorite source of food for many songbirds and some upland gamebirds. These fruits are eaten by such birds as the Greater Prairie Chicken, Wild Turkey, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Cardinal, Gray Catbird, Eastern Kingbird, American Robin, and Cedar Waxwing. Some mammals supplement their diets with these fruits: Examples include the Red Fox, Coyote, Eastern Skunk, Deer Mouse, and White-Footed Mouse. The fruit of the Susquehana Sand Cherry is a potential food source of the Ornate Box Turtle, which favors the open sandy habitats where this shrub occurs. These animals distribute the seeds of cherry trees and shrubs to new locations. In addition to the fruit, the Cottontail Rabbit eats young seedlings and gnaws on the bark, while the White-Tailed Deer browses on the twigs and foliage.

Photographic Location:
An inland sand dune at the Oak Openings Metropark in NW Ohio.

Comments: In addition to the scientific name that is used here, this shrub has been referred to as Prunus susquehanae, Prunus pumila cuneata, and Prunus cuneata. Other common names that refer to this shrub include Sand Cherry, Susquehana Cherry, and Appalachian Cherry. Compared to the typical variety of Sand Cherry, Prunus pumila pumila, Susquehana Sand Cherry has wider leaves with more obtuse tips. Another variety of Sand Cherry, Prunus pumila depressa, is a low sprawling plant only 1-2' tall that is found along sandy beaches. Of these different varieties, only the Susquehana Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila susquehanae) has been found in Illinois.