A deciduous tree up to 30 ft high, of graceful habit, with the trunk dividing low down, suckering freely and often forming thickets in the wild; bark dark brown, scaly; branches pendulous towards the ends; young shoots glabrous or slightly downy. Leaves oval or obovate, tapering abruptly to a drawn-out point and more gradually towards the base, 3 to 4 in. long, 11⁄4 to 13⁄4 in. wide, sharply and often doubly toothed, glabrous except for tufts of down along the midrib in the axils of the veins; stalk 1⁄3 to 3⁄4 in. long, downy and usually without glands. Flowers 1 in. across, pure white, produced two to five together in stalkless umbels, each flower on a slender glabrous stalk 2⁄3 to 1 in. long; calyx reddish, lobes entire, hairy within. Fruits round or nearly so, 1 in. or less in diameter, first yellow, finally bright red; flesh yellow.
Native of the United States, where it is widely spread, reaching as far west as the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. It and varieties derived from it are now largely grown in the eastern United States for the fruits. It has not yet borne fruit freely in Britain, although it flowers very well. The flowers have a faint and rather unpleasant odour. It is said to be extremely handsome when loaded with its red and yellow fruits. It may be distinguished from P. hortulana and P. nigra by the non-glandular leaf-stalks, and from P. alleghaniensis by the colour of its fruits and more graceful habit.
var. lanata Sudw. P. lanata (Sudw.) Mackenzie & Bush; P. palmeri Sarg. – Branchlets and undersides of leaves densely downy. Illinois to S. Missouri. This variety intergrades with the typical state.
P. mexicana S. Wats. – A tree up to 40 ft high closely allied to P. americana but forming a single trunk which becomes furrowed with age. Leaves more shortly acuminate and usually rounded at the base. Although described from N. Mexico, its main range is in the southern central USA.