I inevitably overlook cherry trees (Prunus sp.). I don't know why. In the spring, I look forward to the crabapples, but then am always insensibly surprised by how beautiful cherries are in the spring.
I've mentioned them in passing once and mused on the poor use of the potentially beautiful weeping variety, but I've never acknowledged the lovely fall color they have.
The above is taken outside of the Stuyvesant town apartments - but all around the city I have noticed how lovely cherries look this time of year. The fiery oranges and sunburst yellows contrast well with the trees' dark bark and the evergreen Pachysandra beneath.
Cherries area always easy to spot, even in the winter. They are a coarse-limbed tree with a dark brown - almost black - bark with a rosy pink undertone. Of course, more notable than the color is the bark's smoothness, punctuated with lenticels. (Lenticels are specialized 'pores' in the bark that aid in gas exchange.) The easy way to describe cherry bark is to say it looks like Shantung or raw silk.
But if you weren't convinced you had encountered a cherry, and the leaves were still on the tree, you could look for the small 'pimple' at the base of the leaf's petiole. That is typical to Prunus.
I haven't used a species name in this post, primarily because cherries are so often hybridized. This plant is most likely a Prunus serrulata, but it could be a hybrid of several species.