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sweet cherry (Prunus avium)




















sweet cherry
mazzard cherry
bird cherry
wild cherry


Cerasus avium (L.) Moench
Cerasus avium var. aspleniifolia G. Kirchn.
Cerasus avium var. sylvestris Ser.
Prunus avium var. aspleniifolia (G. Kirchn.) H. Jaeger
Prunus avium var. sylvestris (Ser.) G. Martens & Kemmler
Prunus cerasus var. avium L.
Prunus macrophylla Poir.




TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of sweet cherry
is Prunus avium (L.) L. Cultivation of sweet cherry began in ancient times,
probably first in Asia Minor and then Greece and Rome, giving rise to
todays numerous commercial cultivars. Literally, the scientific name

Prunis avium means "bird cherry"; this is also the common name typically
refering to another species, Prunus padus.


Wild cherry has been known as gean or mazzard (also 'massard'), both
largely obsolete names in modern English, though more recently 'Mazzard'
has been used to refer to a selected self-fertile cultivar that comes true
from seed, and which is used as a seedling rootstock for fruiting cultivars.
The name "wild cherry" has also been applied in a general or colloquial
sense to other species of Prunus growing in their native habitats,
particularly to Black Cherry Prunus serotina.


NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.


generally a small to medium sized deciduous tree that typically grows
20-30 feet tall in cultivation, but may reach 60 feet in its native habitat.
Young sweet cherry trees show strong apical dominance with a straight
trunk and symmetrical conical crown, becoming rounded to irregular on
old trees. The bark of sweet cherry is gray-brown to purplish-brown,
smooth, with prominant, long horizontal lenticels on young trees, becoming
thick dark blackish-brown and fissured on old trees (many of the lenticels
peel). The tree exudes a gum from wounds in the bark, by which it seals
the wounds to exclude insects and fungal infections. Twigs are medium
textured, gray-brown, with a mild bitter almond taste. The buds large (up
to 1/4 inch), reddish brown; spur shoots present with multiple terminal
buds. The leaves are alternate, simple, 2 to 5 inches long, oval to obovate,
with a serrated margin (slightly rounded teeth), obvious darkened glands
(two to five small red glands) on the green or reddish petiole, generally
with more than 8 pairs of veins. The leaves sub-shiny green above, vari-
ably finely downy beneath, with an acuminate tip. In autumn, the leaves
turn orange, yelllow, pink or red before falling. The flowers of sweet cherry
are showy, white, 1 inch across, 3 to 5 per cluster, appearing early spring.
The flowers are produced at the same time as the new leaves, borne in
corymbs of two to six together, each flower pendent on a 2–5 cm peduncle,
2.5–3.5 cm diameter, with five pure white petals, yellowish stamens, and
a superior ovary. Flowers are hermaphroditic and pollinated by bees.
Flowers are followed by small sweet red to black cherries which ripen in
early summer. The fruit is a sweet, dark red to nearly black drupe, 1/2 to
1 inch across, may be clustered on spur shoots. The drupe is edible, variably
sweet to somewhat astringent and bitter to eat fres. It contains a single
hard-shelled stone 8–12 mm long, 7–10 mm wide and 6–8 mm thick,
grooved along the flattest edge. The seed (kernel) inside the stone is 6–8
mm long. fruit fleshy, yellow or red, with a large pit (stone). All parts of the
plant except for the ripe fruit are slightly toxic, containing cyanogenic
glycosides. Symptoms include gasping, weakness, excitement, pupil dilation,
spasms, convulsions, coma, respiratory failure.


REGENERATION PROCESSES: Propogation of sweet cheery is
by seed dispersal, naturally from fruit distribution as well as by seed
dispersal from birds and small mammals.


SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Easily grown in average, medium,
well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Often found near existing
farms or orchards, but can also be found abandoned sites and even
in forest settings away from cultivated lands. Usually found as
individual trees or occassionally in small groups; it is generally not a
significant member of any forest community.


SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Sweet cherry is not a native part of the
eastern forest plant communities. Escaping from cultivated situations, it
can become naturalized in many situations, but is not a significant factor
in the general successional status of any forest commuity. It can be seen
on abandoned farms and homesites in the initial stages of succession; it
can also, with less frequency, be found in more advanced successional
stages, including mature forest.


SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The fruit matures early to mid summer.


GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Sweet cherry is native to Europe and
Asia and has been cultivated in the U. S. since colonial times. Although it
is a parent of many of the sweet cherry cultivars sold in commerce today
for fruit production (such as the popular bing cherry), its fruits are smaller
and not as sweet or tasty as the cultivars.




Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.


       Bleak House
       Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
       South Ridge/North Ridge
       Gap Run
       Woodpecker Lane

       Sherman's Mill
       Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
       Fish Pond


The specific distribution of sweet cherry has not been determined.


cultivated plant, sweet cherry is usually found in or near its original point
of cultivation, although some trees have been spread farther afield by birds
and small mammals. It grows best in situations of low competition from
other trees, especially in disturbed and abandoned areas. It is generally
not a significant factor in plant communities, although it can be found
growing in a variety of situations.


IMPORTANCE AND USES: The fruit of sweet cherry is eaten by
numerous birds and mammals, which digest the fruit flesh and disperse
the seeds in their droppings. Seed dispersal by birds and mammals is
in part responsible for the naturalization of this tree from gardens into
the wild in eastern and midwestern North America. The leaves of sweet
cherry also provides food for species of Lepidoptera such as the case-
bearer moth Coleophora anatipennella.


The hard, reddish-brown wood (cherry wood) is valued as a hardwood for
woodturning, and making cabinets and musical instruments.


Small to medium-sized sweet cherries are used as ornamental flowering
trees for landscaping purposes.


The gum from bark wounds is aromatic and can be chewed as a substitute
for chewing gum.


Medicine can be prepared from the stalks of the drupes that is astringent,
antitussive, and diuretic.


A green dye can also be prepared from the plant.



Back to Inventory of Tree Families and Species

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