The latin name for cherries means “for the birds”
The latin name for cherries means “for the birds”
Prunus avium (sweet cherry)
Prunus cerasus (sour cherry)
USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 - 9 Click here to view USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
A cherry is the fleshy stone fruit (drupe) of many plants in the genus Prunus. Only two main species, the sweet cherry and the sour (or tart) cherry, are cultivated.
Most sweet cherry trees are self-sterile and require a minimum of two or three trees planted together in order to cross-pollinate. Sweet cherry trees reach 40 feet tall.
Sour cherry trees grow to around 20 feet tall and produce smaller, more tart cherries that are used for cooking rather than eating. They are self-fertile and can be planted on their own.
Dwarf varieties of sweet and sour cherry trees are 6 to 10 feet tall.
Cherry trees grow in most temperate regions. The seeds require exposure to cold in order to germinate, and the tree has a short growing season. In North American regions, cherry seeds are planted in autumn and seedlings emerge in spring. Fruit-bearing trees are among the first trees in North America to ripen, typically in early June.
Standard size cherry trees begin producing fruit in their fourth year, and require seven years to reach full maturity.
Cherry trees may be propagated from hardwood cuttings, semi-hardwood cuttings, or by seed.
Hardwood cuttings are taken during the dormant season when the wood has matured and hardened. Semi-hardwood cuttings are taken during the summertime when the wood is only partially-matured.
Cherry trees can also be grown from seeds that are known as the “pits” of the cherry. To germinate, cherry pits require a chilling period. The pits are placed in a plastic bag filled with moist vermiculite, peat moss, or damp paper towels in the refrigerator. Following a 10-week chilling period in this moist environment, pits are moved to pots indoors or planted outside.
One full-grown standard size sour or sweet cherry tree will produce 30 to 50 quarts of cherries per season. A dwarf tree will produce 10 to 15 quarts of cherries. They bruise easily, so a successful harvest requires delicate care for the fruit as well as the tree.
The point of attachment of the cherries to the tree is called the “spur.” It is important not to harm the spur while harvesting as damage to the bark can make the tree susceptible to to pests, disease and infection. No part of the plant should be harmed during the removal of the fruit.
Commercial growers use mechanical shakers to shake the cherries onto a large piece of plastic sheeting. The cherries are moved from the sheeting onto a conveyor belt on a another piece of machinery. As the conveyor belt moves along, leaves and other debris are removed and the cherries dropped into a box ready for packaging.
Cherries can be stored up to one week in a plastic bag in the refrigerator or one year in the freezer.
In order to freeze cherries, they must first have their stems and pits removed. Then they are frozen individually on a baking tray before being put in a plastic bag and frozen as a bunch. To avoid freezer burn, all of the excess air must be removed from the bags.
The sweet cherry tree, or Prunus Avium, is native to eastern Europe and western Asia. Its name derives from Latin and means “for the birds,” due to how attractive to the sweet fruit is to birds. The sour or tart cherry is thought to be a hybrid between the sweet cherry and a wild shrub called “ground cherry” in eastern and central Europe.
Chinese warriors feasted on cherries dating as far back as 600 BCE. In Europe, cherries were first recorded in the 3rd century BCE in the records of the ancient Greek botanist, Theophrastus, in his “History of Plants.” Researchers believe they were cultivated in Greece long beforehand Theophrastus’ time.
In Rome, Pliny the Elder wrote of cherries in his natural sciences compendium, “Natural History,” dating to 1 CE. His writings suggest that the Romans took cherry trees to Britain. However, it was not until the 16th century that cherries were commonly cultivated in England and Europe.
British settlers introduced the cherry tree to North America in the 17th century when they brought it to New England. The wild cherry, or chokecherry, grew in North America long before the arrival of the Europeans. The chokecherry was a staple of Native Americans, who used it both medicinally (for cough medicine) and as a source of food.
The commercial cherry industry in the United States began in Michigan, near Old Traverse City, in the 1800s. Today, Traverse City is known as the Cherry Capital of the World, and produces 40% of the sour cherries in the United States.
The world’s leading commercial cherry producers are: Turkey, United States, Iran, Italy, and Spain (FAOSTAT, 2012).
Popular sweet cherry varieties include: Bing, Chelan, Lambert, Lapin and Tulare.
The most popular sour cherry varieties in North America are the Montmorency and Morello varieties.
Sweet cherries are the most common type of cherry found in markets, and are eaten raw, juiced, made into preserves, and cooked. They are used as ingredients in pies and other desserts, jam and jelly spreads, breakfast foods, salads, cocktails and savory dishes.
Sour or tart cherries are not usually eaten raw, but are used for making preserves and other recipes. Tart cherry juice is gaining increasing recognition for its nutritional benefits.
Why did George Washington chop down that cherry tree, anyway? Clearly he did not realize how many nutritional benefits the cherry has to offer!
Sweet and tart cherries are both good sources of vitamin C and fiber. Tart cherries are also an excellent source of vitamin A. Cherries are also high in potassium, an essential mineral that supports a healthy heart and lowers blood pressure.
Cherries are a great source of antioxidants--particularly sour, or tart cherries. The fruit’s deep red pigmentation is attributed to the antioxidant flavonoid, anthocyanin, which helps to reduce oxidative stress and has been shown to be an inhibitor of cancer cell growth. The high levels of anthocyanin found in sour cherries inhibits tumor growth in mice, and cancer in human colon cells.
In addition to cancer and stroke-fighting benefits, anthocyanin is one of many powerful anti-inflammatory compounds found in cherries. In one study conducted by researchers from Oregon Health and Science University, 20 women with osteoarthritis, aged 40 to 70, drank tart cherry juice twice daily for two weeks. The study participants showed a significant decrease in markers for inflammation. In a similar study conducted by researchers at Baylor Research Institute, participants reported a 20% reduction in osteoarthritis pain with a daily dose of tart cherry extract.
Anthocyanins also reduce risk of stroke, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Consuming just one ½ cup-serving of cherries daily can provide significant relief for people who suffer from gout, which occurs when metabolic processes that manage uric acid levels in the blood fail to work properly. Uric acid crystals to form on the joints resulting in inflammation and swelling. Consuming cherries or tart cherry juice regularly can help reduce uric acid levels in the body.
Cherries are a natural sleep aid. The fruit contains melatonin, an antioxidant, plays a role in maintaining regular sleep cycles. Drinking tart cherry juice 30 minutes before bed can help to achieve restful sleep.
Because of cherries’ high antioxidant properties, the Alzheimer’s Association ranks the fruit among the top memory-boosting foods.
Sweet cherry trees are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9. Sour cherry trees are hardy in zones 3 to 8.
Cherries require cold weather to germinate. See Propagation for instructions on how to start a cherry tree from seed.
Because most sweet cherries cannot self-pollinate, they require a second, compatible cultivar nearby to cross-pollinate.
If propagating a sweet cherry tree from cuttings, it is possible to plant one tree that is grafted with two cultivars.
Rootstock for sweet cherry trees should be acquired from a reliable nursery or garden center. It is important to note which cultivars you have chosen to plant to make sure they are compatible for pollination, as not all cultivars are compatible.
Sour cherry trees may be planted alone because they are capable of self-pollination.
Sour cherries have a higher frost tolerance and, in fact, require approximately 1,000 hours of 45 degree Fahrenheit or below weather for healthy germination. Sweet cherry trees are less cold-hardy and are susceptible to early-autumn frosts.
Sweet cherries mature earlier in spring than sour cherries..
Sweet cherry trees are planted in late autumn or early winter; sour cherries in early autumn
Sweet cherry trees should be planted 25 to 30 feet apart and sour cherries 20 to 25 feet apart.
All varieties of cherry trees should be mulched and regularly watered. The watering should be carefully monitored as the fruit is highly susceptible to moisture levels. If over-watered, the cherries will crack and split - if the soil is too dry the fruits will wither on the tree.
Cherry trees are pruned in July and August, after harvest, to encourage new fruiting wood growth.
A sweet cherry tree takes 7 to 10 years to begin fruiting - less time for one started from cuttings rather than from seed.
A sour cherry tree begins to bear fruit in as little as four years.