Black cherry (Prunus serotina) is one of the most valuable species of timber in north America. With a beautiful grain and stunning reddish-brown color, its wood is cherished material for high-end furniture, flooring, and other decorative surfaces. But how much are black cherry trees worth? Typically, Standing black cherry trees can fetch the owner between $300-700 per MBF.
However, the question of black cherry value is complicated and involves a lot of assumptions and pre-conditions. Primary among those assumptions is to define exactly what is meant by the value of the tree and what the size and quality of the stem is. For example, in the table below you can see typical values for a black cherry tree based on the size of the tree and the stage in the value chain the tree is in (lumber being the most refined).
If you are confused, don’t worry. In this article we will discuss everything there is to know about how much black cherry trees are worth, starting with the three primary definitions of value for a tree.
The Three Values of Black Cherry
Black cherry, as with all standing trees, have three primary values depending on their position in the value chain, and each value may be more or less significant to landowners depending on what they plan to do with the tree. These three values are Stumpage prices, log prices, and lumber prices
When we are discussing the value of standing trees, stumpage is the best and most realistic value to look for. Stumpage is the price loggers pay to landowners for the right to harvest standing timber. Because the tree at this stage has no value added and must be harvested, cut into logs, moved to the roadside, and transported to a sawmill, the stumpage is the lowest of the values of a tree.
Typical stumpage values for black cherry range from $600-$700 per MBF in its core range and $200-$300 per MBF outside of its core range. To learn more about what might affect these values, we have an article on what loggers pay landowners here. To know typical stumpage rates for your area, we have a list of stumpage prices by state and province here.
Take note, however, that the form of black cherry differs considerably over its range, and so stumpage values can differ substantially by region.
Log prices are the prices mills pay for processed logs that have been harvested and transported to the mill. This is what loggers receive for their harvested timber. Because the price includes these costs, the price of logs is substantially higher than the stumpage price–usually about twice as much.
The value of cherry logs greatly depends on the quality of the log. Logs that are free of defect will command a premium. Moreover, in black cherry, the heartwood is more highly valued, so logs with a larger heartwood area will be worth more. Generally speaking, however, black cherry logs delivered to the mill will fetch around $400-$1,200 per MBF.
To get the most accurate price for black cherry logs, call a hardwood sawmill in your area.
The final value of a tree is best seen as its potential value. This is the value of the lumber it can produce. Because this is the most refined state of the tree in the value chain, and it involves, harvest, transport, milling and planing, kiln drying, more transport, and retail costs, the value of lumber is substantially higher than other values.
Because there is so much involved in the production of cherry lumber, one could further breakdown lumber prices by wholesale and retail. Wholesale prices are the prices sawmills receive from retailers, and retail prices are the prices paid by consumers. Large sawmills generally receive wholesale prices because they produce more inventory than they can sell on their own, but smaller sawmills with direct-to-consumer business models benefit from being able to receive retail prices for their product.
As with all other steps in the value chain, the price of black cherry lumber depends on quality, and the lumber is graded on a typical NHLA grading scale.
That said, typical black cherry lumber values range from $4,000-$6,000 per MBF.
Determining the Board Feet (MBF) of a Black Cherry Tree
As you may have noticed, all the previous prices were in units of “MBF,” also known as thousand board feet. Board feet is essentially a measurement of how much lumber trees and logs are likely to yield, and it is a unit that is perhaps the largest determinant for how much black cherry trees are worth. To find the board foot volume of a standing tree, we have a table below that uses the number of usable logs and diameter (DBH).
To better and more effectively use this table, we have an entire article on the subject here. Being able to estimate the board feet of a given tree is the key to estimating its value. Once you understand the estimate of board foot volume, simply divide by 1000 and multiply by the price per MBF discussed above. To see the whole process in action, watch the video below.
However, the price per MBF can still fluctuate significantly depending on numerous factors, including quality.
Value Depends on Quality
As with any tree, black cherry trees that are straighter, cleaner, and larger are going to be worth more. Knots, sweeps, rot, cracks, and the like will all work to reduce the yield of the tree and create visual imperfections in the grain, lowering the grade of the logs and subsequent value. In the diagram below, you can see a visual representation of the difference between a high grade tree and a low grade tree. In the low grade tree, only a small log near the bottom is usable as a sawlog. On the tree to the right, the clear stem allows most of the stem to be used as sawtimber.
Imperfections that negatively affect value include:
- Knots and branches
- Irregular shape
- Small Heartwood
Black Cherry Sawlog Grades
Because of the importance of quality in value, black cherry logs are graded based on the quality of the log and paid for accordingly. As with all sawtimber, the highest grade (and hence price) is reserved for the best and largest logs, known as veneer logs. Veneer commands a large premium far and above what normal sawlogs command. After veneer comes “prime” sawlogs, followed by logs graded 1-3, with 3 being the worst. However, mills may have their own unique grading systems based on their needs, markets, and standards.
Pulpwood and Firewood
If a black cherry tree is too small, has too many defects, or is overall too poor quality for use as sawtimber, it can only be used for firewood or pulpwood, and thus its value will be quite low, fetching the landowner usually only a few dollars a ton.
However, even within this context, black cherry firewood can be valuable relative to other species. Cherry firewood burns hot, splits easy, and has some of the best fragrance available for a firewood, making it highly attractive to those with wood-burning stoves.
What Makes Black Cherry Such a Valuable Species?
As with all products in a (mostly) market economy, the value of black cherry is determined by supply and demand.
Demand for the lumber of black cherry trees is in incredibly high demand globally. The reddish-pink color of the wood gives it a stunning appearance for flooring, trim, cabinets, and all other sorts of decorative woods, including gun stocks, plaques, veneers, and more. Moreover, it is an easily-workable wood that is highly desired by woodworkers. All these attributes make it an ideal material for a wide array of wood products.
On the other hand, cherry is relatively rare species in American forests, accounting for only 0.3% of commercial timber volume. Unlike maple and oak, cherry seldom occurs as a primary cover type, usually taking the role of a secondary or tertiary species within a stand (usually tertiary). Though it has a fairly large range, the highest quality black cherry trees are found in a fairly limited region in New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
This combination for high demand and low supply make black cherry trees worth more than most other species.
How Much is an Acre of Black Cherry Worth?
The value of even a single high-quality black cherry tree might not be overly exciting, but what if we consider an entire acre of black cherry trees? How much is an acre of black cherry worth? To estimate such a scenario, we will need to know the amount of MBF (thousand board feet) per acre. Luckily, we can estimate that with the table below.
The table uses BA/acre (which you can learn about here) and the number of usable sawlogs per tree to estimate MBF per acre.
Let’s assume we are in an area conducive to growing high-quality cherry trees. If the stand was well-stocked with 80 BA/acre of black cherry, and each tree had 2 usable 16-foot logs. In that instance, the timber could be worth around $6900 per acre! Imagine 100 acres of a similar stand, and the timber is valued at a total of $690,000 on the stump! Not too bad at all!
Thus far we have been focusing on the financial side of value. It is, however, only one aspect of value. when managing forests and timberlands, one should always consider the ecological and wildlife values of trees and forests as well. On these criteria, black cherry scores highly once more.
Cherries are a nutritious and incredibly important food for song birds and mammals large and small, including bear, deer, and my personal favorite upland game bird, the ruffed grouse. Thus, black cherry trees have a high value to the ecosystem, and this value should be considered when managing your forest land.
How to Sell Your Black Cherry Trees
If you are looking to sell black cherry on your property, you first have to consider where and in what context these trees are.
Yard trees, for example, are not worth anything. Not only will no logger pay you to harvest trees from your yard (such work is best left to an arborist), but black cherry trees that are open-grown tend to be overly limby, poorly-formed, and not very valuable at all.
If, however, you have black cherry trees as part of a larger parcel of forest land, the timber on which you wish to sell, it is best to contact a local forester. A professional forester will be able to assess the value of your timber and conduct a proper timber sale to ensure you get the best price for your wood. Additionally, the forester can enforce the contract and ensure your land is not being mismanaged or abused in any way to ensure its value is maintained over time.
While at peak value, black cherry trees can be worth more than most other species, this value is highly dependent on the form of the tree. Across most of its range, the value of black cherry doesn’t reach the value of species like oak or sugar maple. In other words, to reach its potential, black cherry must be grown on a “goldilocks” site of climate and soils that are just right.
Moreover, the market for high-end lumbers like cherry is fairly volatile. Prices of these lumbers had risen precipitously in 2021 (along with most other commodities), but in 2022, they have come down a bit from their peaks. What the market will bring in 2023 and beyond is anyone’s guess.
Nonetheless, its rich, red wood will continue to captivate aesthetic tastes, and so black cherry will be a valuable tree for decades, if not centuries, to come.