Cherry tree characteristics

What is a cherry tree?

Cherry trees are trees of the Rosaceae family that grow mainly in northern temperate zones.

They belong to the genus prunus, within which we have other well-known trees, such as almonds (Prunus dulcis), peaches (Prunus persica), apricots (Prunus armeniaca) or plums (Prunus domestica).

We also have shrubs in genus prunus, such as blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

Types of cherries

The two best known species of cherries in Europe and Western Asia are the sweet cherry or wild cherry (Prunus avium) and the acid or sour cherry (Prunus cerasus). Most of the varieties grown today come from one of these varieties. Cherry trees grow spontaneously in most European temperate forests till 63 ° N in Scandinavia.

What is a sour cherry tree?

Sour cherry comes from Macedonia and Asia Minor, but it has been naturalized in many parts of Europe. This differs from the previous tree because it hast a shorter, less defined trunk, with many suckers; its branches are thinner and more pendulous.

They produce smaller and darker fruits with a more acidic flavor. Sour cherries do not endure so much as sweet cherries once collected. Sour cherry trees do not usually grow more than 7 meters high.

What is a sweet cherry tree?

cherry tree

Photo of cherry tree in bloom.

Sweet cherry is a tall tree that can reach 20 m, with well-defined trunk and spreading branches that provide it a more elegant aspect.

Its leaves are rather long, since they usually measure between 6 and 15 cm in length, while sour cherry ones usually attain 5 to 8.

Sweet cherry leaves narrow gradually toward the apex. They are usually light green and matte, while in the sour cherry tree, leaves narrow abruptly at the apex and show a glossy dark green color

Wild cherries

Besides these cultivated cherry trees, we also have another set of wild cherry trees that are harvested for their fruits for making jams, cakes and drinks. Among these, we can point out the American wild cherry trees, such as:

  • Black cherry (Prunus serotina), which grows wild throughout the southeastern half of the United States.
  • Choke cherry (Prunus virginiana) From the south of USA to the Gulf of Mexico.

Given the acidity of the fruits in most of these species, they are not generally used to eat directly. Others, such as the choke cherry, are poisonous, including the seeds, leaves and bark. Only the fruit can be eaten. In this case, it is is mainly used as a medicinal plant and to make cakes and jams.

Cherry history

Herodotus, the Greek historian, mentions this tree for the first time. He describes as the people of Scythia lived in what was supposed to be a cherry.

“The tree from which they obtain their food is called the pontic tree. It’s the size of a fig tree and produces large fruit like a bean and has a bone inside. When the fruit is ripe, they squeeze it with a cloth and produces a dense black juice…

They suck the juice or mixed it with milk and drink and with the thickest part or sediment make cakes to eat, because they have few cattle and the grass is not too good. Each man makes his home under a tree covered in winter with a piece of felt and uncover it in the summer. No one harms these people, because they are considered sacred and they do not possess weapons of war. “

Cherry tree, as a cultivated tree, according to the scientist and Latin writer Pliny, originated in Asia from where it was brought to Rome by Lucullus, a Roman general, after beating Mitriades, king of Pontus, in 65 DC. The Romans spread its culture throughout the Mediterranean.

Customs and traditions of cherry tree

Photo of cherries with leaves

Photo of cherries with leaves

Cherry tree is grown mainly for the production of its fruits called cherries. They can be eaten fresh or in different dishes. Preserved in jam or marmalade. From cherries we also also make different spirits as “Kirsch” or “Maraschino”, Mexican Acachul wine or cherry vinegar, quite common in China.

The stems of the fruits and leaves are used in herbal medicine for its diuretic properties. (More information on “Properties of cherry in the listing below)

We must not neglect the cherry wood that has a lot of quality in woodwork and for the production of musical instruments. Because of its rapid growth, it gives a good yield in a short time.

Many Asian species of cherry trees are grown as landscape plants, being especially remarkable the importance that the Japanese grant to this tree.

Importance of cherry tree in Japan

Japanese people especially admire cherry tree flowers. In Japan it is annually celebrated the feast of “The sight of cherry blossoms” which they call the” Hanami “.

Families go to the the countryside and the gardens and parks of cities in early April to eat and drink sake under the flowered cherry trees. The Japanese consider the cherry blossom as the ideal of a simple and pure life.

The cherry blossom is the symbol of the flow of time and the blossom time is a happy moment in their short life since it represents the spring and the rebirth of life. Lovers take this moment to declare themselves mutual love.

This festival has been celebrated since ancient times, although, at first, only the most important classes could participate. Every year they gather under the trees in bloom to write.

Cherry tree has always been very important in Japanese culture. Once considered a sacred tree inhabited by their gods. No wonder that the cherry blossoms are often part of literature, painting, dance and other forms of graphic representation. Regardless of Hanami Party, in Japanese weddings, the bride and groom drink an infusion of cherry blossoms to give them good luck in the future.

Cherry tree in other parts of the world

The importance of this flowering tree is remarkable not only in Japanese culture. In the Czech Republic, the blooming of cherry trees in late December is considered a sign of good luck.

The Jerte Valley in Extremadura (Spain) is financially dependent on the cultivation of the cherry tree. This is why this valley is known as “The Cherry Valley.”

Every year, a “Cherry Festival” is celebrated in this region. In this event, a series of activities related with this tree take place: excursions to see the beauty of the fields in bloom, cherry tasting dishes, gathering of cherries by visitors in certain fields, regional dances, gymkhanas, etc.

This festival is normally held in late March, although the date may change to suit the cherry blossom, that is very dependent on weather conditions. It’s a party that has achieved widespread touristy importance, but it was already carried out traditionally when farmers went to the flowered fields to celebrate spring.

Cherry tree is related with mitology, magic and love

The truth is that, from time immemorial, cherry tree has been associated with gods and deities. In Roman mythology, it was associated with Venus, the goddess of love, with the sun and the summer. It was considered a symbol of innocence.

The relationship of this tree with love is appreciated in many cultures since ancient times. It is an old custom to predict the fate of a damsel in future years through the bones of the cherries recently eaten. Young women ask themselves when they will marry. They go on taking one bone after another as they answer themselves “this year, next year, sometime, never.” The last bone determines the chosen response.

Other times, this tree has been associated with the dark and magical. The wizards and witches of the Middle Ages used a cherry branch to perform their spells. They prescribed cherry juice as an aphrodisiac or as a remedy for ailments of menstruation.

Cherry production in the world

The first producer of cherries in the world is Turkey, followed by the United States, China, Spain, Chile, Japan and Australia.

The U.S. is the largest exporter of fresh cherries, Canada and Japan being its major markets, while Turkey exports mainly to Germany and the UK.

The following table shows the approximate amount exported during the year 2006 – 2007, according to Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Main cherry producers in the world (Year 2006 – 2007)
CountryWhole production in T (Metric tones)
United states410.000
Japan22 000

punto rojo More information on cherries.

This article was endorsed by Julián Masats - Technical agricultural engineer specialized in horticulture and gardening.
Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

2 July, 2021

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