Cherries are truly summer delights, especially when topped on soft serves, pies, and tarts. Cherry wines and coolers are also hard to miss on hot summer days or wintry nights.
You might think that cherry trees are generic but there are actually hundreds of them. Some bear fruits, some don’t.
Some have sweet fruits and some have bitter and sour ones. Some grow tall while dwarf varieties are grown as ornamentals. It is a versatile tree and the fact that it has more than 35 known varieties is enough evidence that it is well-loved.
For this post, we will cover the different types of cherry trees, how to identify them, and what they are used for.
In this article:
- What are the best flowering cherry trees?
- How to identify a wild cherry tree
- Types of Cherry Trees
- Japanese cherry tree (Prunus serrulata)
- Higan cherry tree (Prunus x subhirtella)
- Sweet cherry tree (Prunus avium)
- Sour Cherry tree
- Growing and caring for cherry tree
- Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best flowering cherry trees?
There are a lot of cherry tree varieties. Some are cultivated for their fruits and some are planted as ornamentals. While all cherry trees produce showy, clustered flowers specifically during spring, some are more outstanding than others in this field. If you are wondering what varieties the best flowering cherry trees are, here is a list for you:
- Plena cherry
- Watereri cherry
- Kanzan cherry
- Collingwood Ingram cherry
- Rosea cherry
- Fugenzo cherry
- Ukon cherry
- Blushing bride cherry
- Yoshino cherry
- Rubra cherry
How to identify a wild cherry tree
Also known as black cherry trees, wild cherries are common in forests and fields within hardiness zones of 3-9. Aside from its black cherry fruits, it also has a black-gray bark, hence, the name black cherry. Some claim that identifying wild cherries is easy but for the sake of those who cannot identify it right away, here are some key characteristics to look out for.
- Leaves: Wild cherries have simple, undivided leaves with jagged edges. They are alternating in form, shiny, dark green on top and pale green underneath. Some stay green until fall and the others either turn yellow, orange, or a popping red.
- Flowers: They bloom in mid-spring at 1/3inch wide. They are tubular in shape, bloom in white clumps, and are usually covered with bees. They also have a slight, sweet fragrance. Like other cherry variants, the flowers of wild cherries bloom first before the foliage emerges.
- Fruits: They grow in clusters and when they first emerge, they are dark red in color. When they are eaten by critters, the fruits will turn black. For the animals, the blacker the sweeter the taste for them. Like other cherry trees, fruits of wild cherries emerge a few weeks after the last bloom.
- Twigs and bark: Wild cherries have shiny, reddish-brown twigs. Its twigs and bark have corky pores called lenticels. When it reaches maturity, the twigs and bark become black in color and the lenticels will be replaced by scales. It is in the twigs and barks of wild cherries that the poisonous content is concentrated. It is a form of cyanide which when ingested could cause mild conditions such as vomiting or diarrhea to more serious conditions like anaphylactic shock, stopping of the heart, or sudden death.
Types of Cherry Trees
Japanese cherry tree (Prunus serrulata)
This one is the very famous sakura tree or cherry blossoms. Its famed status is due to its unique floral display of pink and white flowers during spring.
The flowers bloom in clusters covering the entire branches until almost mid-bark. It also features color-changing leaves with green foliage in spring that turn yellow, orange, or red in the fall. After bloom time, it will produce small, red fruits that are not palatable for humans.
Higan cherry tree (Prunus x subhirtella)
This cherry tree is known for its high ornamental value. It has an interesting overall shape, green leaves in the spring, and golden yellow during fall and long blooming period.
Its flowers are also interesting as they start with red buds then turn into semi-double, frilled pink flowers in late fall.
The flowers will gradually turn white as it enters winter. It is also a prized ornamental because it can tolerate very hot summers and cold winters. It does not also have a lot of care requirements.
Sweet cherry tree (Prunus avium)
This comes in many varieties. It is where sweet cherry fruits that are eaten raw are taken from. They are considered as deciduous trees growing at a medium size.
They have deep green foliage during spring turning into bronze colors during summer and fall. Fragrant white flowers in the spring pave the way for sweet cherry fruits after. They love the sun and moist soils.
Bing Cherry Tree
This variety requires close proximity to other cherry varieties. This is because it can only grow fruits through cross-pollination.
Its leaves are serrated and its bark is copper-red in color and with corky stripes all over. It needs other cherry varieties to pollinate and its pink flowers are heavily perfumed.
Stella Cherry Tree
It produces some of the largest fruits among all sweet cherries. Its fruits are unique for their deep, dark red color.
It is considered as an early bloomer providing a showy floral display of white flowers as soon as spring starts. Its bloom time will last until early summer. Like other sweet cherries, it also needs to be planted near other cherry variants for cross-pollination.
Royal Lee Cherry Tree
This one is always sold with an accompanying cherry pollinator like the Minnie Lee. It produces one of the smallest cherry fruits among the sweet cherry varieties.
It might not be as popular as the others but it is one of the few sweet cherry varieties that could last in mild winters. It is also one of the fastest ripening cherries.
Rainier Che Cherry tree
This one is distinguishable for its very large fruits that look like cherry tomatoes more than cherries. This is because of their red-orange color.
Its white flesh, however, gives it its name “white cherry”. It is actually a hybrid between Bing and Vans. It is stunning for its spring floral display of very fragrant pink and white blooms.
Sour Cherry tree
This cherry type is also known as tart cherry. It is where cherry fruits are made into jams, tarts, and preserves are taken from.
Fruits from this tree are not to be eaten raw because they have a sharp, sour taste. As such, they are also preserved for alcoholic beverages and liquors. They can grow as shrubs or medium-sized trees. Their natural round shape also makes them good in hedging.
Montmorency cherry tree
This one is considered as one of the oldest varieties of tart cherries. It originated in France and was used for commercial purposes such as in liquor production.
They are hardy and need the winter frost (up to 700hours of winter chill) for better fruit production. They bloom white/pink flowers during late spring and dark red fruits are harvested in June.
Meteor cherry tree (Prunus cerasus ‘Meteor’)
It is considered as a small-sized sour cherry type because its mature height is at 10ft only. Like the Montmorency, it is disease-resistant and is appealing for its heavy fruit production.
It is mainly used for culinary purposes because of its clear sour juice which can be used as a substitute for lime or lemon. Its fruits ripen late in the season and require 800 chill hours.
Sargent’s cherry tree (Prunus sargentii)
It grows upright and has a rounded shape so it makes an umbrella-like canopy when it becomes mature. It blooms pink flowers before the leaves emerge.
After the flowers bloom, dark purple fruits appear. These fruits are very sour and are not made for human consumption. It is, however, the favorite of birds and other wildlife. Its leaves are unique as they are serrated. They turn yellow, orange, or red in the fall.
Tibetan Cherry (Prunus serrula)
It is unique for glossy, copper-colored bark. This characteristic makes it a favorite winter ornamental. Green leaves emerge in spring and turn golden yellow in the fall.
After white, tiny flowers bloom in the spring, small berries sprout. The fruits can be edible depending on the variety. It provides food for birds and other wildlife, however. This is a slow-growing cherry and thrives in many soil conditions.
Weeping Cherry Tree (Prunus pendula)
It gets its name from its long, drooping branches. Some varieties have arching branches while others have low cascading ones. Their small, pink flowers will emerge first before their leaves.
From flowering in spring, dark, pea-like fruits will be visible. These are not edible for humans but provide food for birds. The leaves turn orange during fall and will be bare during winter.
Yoshino Cherry (Prunus x yedoensis)
This cherry tree is a hybrid known for its arching or upright branching habit. Its flowers appear before the leaves. The flowers are small but bloom in abundance covering all of the branches.
The flowers come in semi-double to double forms in white or pink colors and scent that is likened to almonds. It produces red berries that are not edible for humans but a source of food for birds. Its leaves turn yellow or orange in the fall.
Growing and caring for cherry tree
Cherry trees are well distributed in almost all regions of the world. You can grow them through seeds or you can buy seedlings in your local greenhouse. If you intend to grow your own cherry tree, you need to know its basic growing and caring pointers to ensure that you will harvest fruits after.
You can plant your own cherry tree through seeds. However, unlike other fruit-bearing trees, you cannot plant the seeds directly after gathering them. Cherry tree seeds need to be refrigerated first. The length of refrigeration depends on the cherry variety that you will plant.
Another thing to consider is that some cherry varieties need pollinators to go with them. The best time to plant cherries would be spring when the soil is consistently moist. Cherries need deep soils and they have to be planted far from buildings where there is more shade. Sweet cherries are planted 35-40ft apart and sour cherries at 20-25ft apart.
When it comes to caring requirements, there are no differences between sweet and sour cherries.
There might be subtle differences for ornamental cherries like the Higan and Sakura especially in terms of pruning and pest control as they are found more in public places like parks and boulevards.
For this part, we will breakdown the caring requirements so that you will get more specific care pointers for your cherry trees.
Cherry trees are specially hardy and they can survive weeks without being watered. You have to remember, however, that regular watering is needed during hot and windy seasons to maintain moisture. You can also use organic mulch to retain moisture even in irregular watering.
Spreading compost around your growing cherry tree will surely encourage new growth. Ideally, this should be done every spring although some growers especially those who are growing sweet cherries do it twice a year. Commercial-grade fertilizers can be of help to but making your own compost is not just cheaper but will also encourage more robust fruiting.
Cutting overgrowths helps you in maintaining the natural shape of your cherry tree. By eliminating overgrowth, you are also eliminating chances of pest infestation and the niching of unwanted wildlife. Pruning once in a while also encourages growth. The best time to prune cherry trees will be during spring or early summer.
Humans are not the only ones feeding on delectable cherry fruits. Mites, fruit flies, birds, fruit worms, and tree borers. To prevent these critters from niching on your cherry tree and to also avoid bacteria and fungi build-up (such as aphids, root rots, and withering leaves), applying a copper-sulfate formula around the tree would help.
Frequently Asked Questions
We have pretty much-covered everything that you should know about the different types of cherry trees. To top it all off, here are some frequently asked questions about cherry trees.
Are there poisonous cherry trees?
Yes, there are and they are called black cherries or wild cherries. Their twigs and leaves are the sources of poison. It contains a type of cyanide called prussic acid which can be fatal when ingested. However, they also prove to be commercially useful cherries because of their sturdy, decorative bark. Its wood is also used in making furniture and its fruits are used in making preserves and wine.
Are all types of cherries edible?
Generally, yes, all types of cherries are edible. There are some considerations, however. If you are looking for the sweet, archetypal cherry, they usually are varieties of sweet cherry. Specifically, you are looking for Bing and Rainier cherries. Sweet cherries are the safest to eat and they can be eaten raw. Some cherry trees, however, could be sour or bitter and cannot be eaten raw. There are also cherry trees that do not bear fruits at all.
Can you eat the fruit of a wild cherry tree?
According to the USDA, the fruits of wild cherries can be eaten as long as the fruit pits are avoided. In picking wild cherry fruits, the bark, twigs, and leaves should be avoided too as they contain cyanide. So if you picked them fresh, make sure that you wash them thoroughly and you wash your hands thoroughly too, or else, you might ingest the chemical.
Cherry trees are diverse and this diversity adds more to our fascination with them. Some cherry trees are grown for their fruits either to be eaten raw like sweet cherries or to be added in pies, tarts, preserves, and be fermented for wine or other liquor like sour cherries.
Some may also be considered as poisonous like the black cherry. Aside from their delightful fruits, cherries are also attractive ornamentals providing floral displays of fragrant blooms all spring and until early summer.
Growing and caring for cherry trees are also easy and so anyone could grow one out of seeds. There is no wonder why cherries are widely cultivated for it is indeed, like the cliché goes, on top.