Cherry, a tree that bears a fruit with a fleshy layer surrounding a hard stone or pit. The name cherry is also given to the fruit. Most types of cherries are edible.

Cherries are eaten fresh and are canned, dried, frozen, or candied; they are used in cooking and baking, for making wine, and for flavoring foods and beverages. Cherries are also an important food for wildlife. Cherry trees are important not only for their fruit, but also as a source of valuable timber. Some cherry trees are also cultivated as ornamentals. Cherry trees are grown in the temperate zones of North America and Eurasia and in parts of northern Africa.

Types of Trees
Sweet, or Dessert, Cherries

Sweet cherry trees have tall trunks; stout, gray branches; and smooth, reddish-brown bark. They grow to 70 feet (21 m) in height. In early spring, sweet cherry trees produce clusters of white flowers, which mature into sweet, juicy fruits three-quarters to one inch (2 to 2.5 cm) in diameter. The blossoms are vulnerable to late frosts. For this reason, sweet cherry trees are grown in mild temperate areas. The most common varieties of sweet cherries are Bing (dark red), Napoleon and Royal Anne (yellowish-orange), and Tartarian and Windsor (purplish-black). “Mazzard” is the common name of the wild form of the sweet cherry tree.

Sour, or Pie, Cherries

Sour cherry trees are small trees with short trunks and slender, spreading branches. They grow to be 30 feet (9 m) tall. Clusters of white flowers mature into sour fruits that are five-eighths to threequarters inch (1.5 to 2 cm) in diameter. Sour cherry trees are hardier than sweet cherry trees. The chief varieties are the bright red Montmorency and the almost black English Morello.

Duke Cherries

Duke cherry trees are hybrid varieties, which are hardier than sweet cherry trees but not as hardy as the sour varieties. The fruits are sour, but can be eaten fresh when they are very ripe.

Wild Cherries

The pin or fire, cherry is a small tree or shrub that produces red fruit one-fourth inch (6 mm) in diameter. The cherries are eaten by wildlife. It is called “fire cherry” because its seedlings come up after forest fires. The black, or rum, cherry grows to 80 feet (24 m) in height. Its fruits, which are used to make jelly and wine, are black and have a distinctive flavor. The wood of the black cherry is used for furniture and paneling. Wild cherry syrup, a cough medicine, is obtained from the bark. The common chokecherry is a shrub or small tree. It produces small, dark red or blackish fruits, which are very sour. The mahaleb cherry is a small tree producing black fruits, which are inedible. It is used as stock for grafting other varieties of cherries.

Flowering Cherries

Flowering cherries are among the most beautiful of flowering trees and are cultivated for their ornamental value. The two main types of flowering cherries are those that stand erect and have a spreading crown and those that have hanging branches. Flowering cherries produce clusters of white or pink flowers, which can be single or double in form. Plantings of the Japanese flowering cherry in Washington, D.C., are famous.

How Cherries Are Grown

Cultivated cherry trees are produced by a process called budding. A rootstock of a special budding variety—either the mahaleb or mazzard cherry tree—is planted and allowed to produce a stem. A bud from the desired variety of cultivated tree is then inserted in this stem near the ground. The bud produces a stem that becomes the trunk of the tree. The original stem is cut off.

Young trees are planted 20 to 40 feet (6 to 12 m) apart in rows. A commercial yield—150 to 250 pounds (68 to 113 kg) of cherries per tree—is obtained five to seven years after planting. A cherry tree must be pruned, or trimmed, throughout its life. The cherries are harvested in July or August; they are either picked by hand or are shaken from the trees by machine.

Insects and Diseases

Among insects infesting the cherry are the plum curculio, bud moth, destructive prune worm, and cherry maggot. There are a number of fungus diseases that attack cherry trees. Among them are brown rot, yellow leaf, and cherry leaf spots. Both insects and fungi are controlled by spraying.

Cherries belong to the rose family, Rosaceae. The sweet cherry is Prunus avium; the sour cherry, P. cerasus; the duke cherry, P. effusus; the pin cherry, P. pensylvanica; the black cherry, P. serotina; the chokecherry, P. virginiana; the mahaleb cherry, P. mahaleb; and the Japanese flowering cherry, P. sermlata.