|Leaf Shape||Broad, flat simple leaves|
|Mature Height||30 to 100 feet depending on type|
|Best Habitat||Moist soil and full sunlight
|Best Climate||Cool to warm|
|Output||Flowers and fruit|
|Uses||Food, medicine, cabinets|
From the legend of George Washington to the annual awe-inspiring, multi-cultural event in Washington, D.C., the cherry tree has deep roots in American history. The stunning species is a welcome addition to any yard thanks to its spectacular blossoms, and perhaps even more alluring, fruit. Fortunately, you don't need a serious green thumb to grow the delicious red treats.
Appearance of the Tree
Cherry trees are easily recognized for their brightly colored fruits. Sweet and tart varieties are grown on different types of trees from the same genus, Prunus. Tart cherries are typically featured in pies and preserves, while the sweet variety can be eaten raw or used to top ice cream and salad. Regardless of their taste, the fruit yields the same shape: small and round and with a center pit and skinny stem.
While the fruit is a main attraction, the cherry tree has other noteworthy characteristics such as:
- Flowers: Most cherry tree blossoms feature five petals, though some can produce up to 20 or more. The delicate flower is white to light pink in color; however, some varieties produce dark pink, yellow or green blooms. The majority of cherry tree types have flowers that will change color during the course of its life, generally from white to pink. Blooming periods last from two to four weeks during the spring.
- Leaves: The cherry tree sports broad, flat simple leaves that lack lobes. The green leaves also have serrated edges with identical sized teeth.
- Bark: Most cherry tree types are covered with a smooth, reddish-brown bark that peels off in horizontal strips. The bark of the Sweet Cherry is the exception with its gray and scaly bark which features additional furrows as it matures.
The shape of the cherry tree also varies, from triangular to flat-topped. Other cherry varieties feature a V-shape or include drooping branches that make the tree appear as though it's weeping.
Cherry Tree Types
For people who are used to getting fruit from the grocery store it seems unfathomable to be able to stroll out their back door and pick fresh cherries whenever they please. Fortunately, there are several types of cherry trees that don't require a degree in horticulture to grow.
If you love the idea of growing fruit in your own backyard or simply enjoy the look of gorgeous blooms framing your home, consider adding the following cherry trees to your property:
- Bing Cherry: The tree grows to about 30 feet and produces the most popular of all sweet cherry varieties. The fruit is a hit commercially and for home growers thanks to its juicy sweetness. The smooth skin of the fruit ranges from a deep garnet to black, while its flesh is firm and glossy.
- Sour Cherry: The species is native of Europe and is somewhat smaller than its cousins. This is good news for homeowners who don't want to invest in heavy machinery to harvest cherries. The fruit is rarely eaten raw. Instead, it is added to cobblers, jams, and sauces.
- Black Cherry: The tree sports green, oval leaves and can grow to nearly 100 feet. Classified as the tallest of cherry trees, the Black Cherry features pretty white flowers in the spring which are eventually replaced by edible black cherries that have a bitter taste.
- Weeping Cherry: This tree is typically planted by water so its weeping branches can be reflected. Its rounded shape is covered with white and pink blossoms in the spring and exposed during the winter months when the tree sheds its leaves and flowers.
- Yoshino Cherry: The famous cherry trees, which surround the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., are from the Flowering family. The specimen produces vast amounts of white and pink blooms in early spring prior to the emergence of new leaves. The Flowering Cherry is even more popular in Japan where it is considered tradition to have at least a few of the decorative trees thriving in one's yard.
While the cherry tree is one of the most attractive species on earth, its beauty is short-lived. Most trees don't live beyond 20 years, as it is susceptible to so many diseases and pests.
Where the Cherry Grows
Despite its roots in Japan, Korea and China, the cherry tree lives and prospers in many other countries around the world, including Turkey, Africa, New Zealand and Norway.
North America is also a hot spot for cherry trees. Several popular varieties thrive in:
- New York
- West Virginia
- New Mexico
The tree is able to grow provided it has access to fertile spoil and a decent supply of water. In addition, cherry trees need good air circulation and full sunlight.
Cherry trees are a calming addition to any landscape. However, the specimen has a lot more going for it besides beauty alone.
Other popular uses for the cherry tree include:
- Food: From salads to smoothies, sauces to stuffing and just about everything in between, cherries add a taste and texture all its own. Sweet cherries can be eaten straight off the tree, while sour varieties taste better when placed in savory dishes or baked in tarts and cobblers. The fruit is rich in potassium, magnesium, iron and phosphorous. Cherries are also an excellent source of vitamins C, K and B6.
- Wood: The tree's reddish-brown wood is often used to build cabinets, toys, music boxes and instruments.
- Medicine: Centuries ago cherry tree bark was heated and used as a diuretic and astringent.
Blossoms from the cherry tree also featured in upscale floral arrangements paired with roses and orchids.
Most Americans are familiar with cherry trees thanks in large part to George Washington's tale of chopping down his father's favorite specimen. The incident is forever associated with the former president as a lesson about telling the truth.
Another prominent cherry tree story originates in Japan where government leaders selected 3,000 flowery cherry trees to gift to the United States. The trees were a token of the nations' burgeoning friendship. In 1912 the trees were planted along the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. Each year the area hosts a massive festival to honor the cherry tree and the Japanese culture.
Cherry trees are far from hardy. Rather, the trees are relatively fragile in comparison to other species. Consequently, they are often targeted by diseases which can severely damage or kill them.
Some of the most common diseases that attack cherry trees are:
- Black Knot: Black knot is a widespread and serious disease which affects the tree's twigs, branches, and fruit. The fungus can also cause abnormal bark growth and produce light-brown ulcers that rupture as they mature. If the disease is ignored, the tree can die within a couple of years.
- Silver Leaf: This fungal disease leaves a silver luster on the tree's leaves. Over time, the leaves will brown and toxins in the fungus will attack the tree's inner vascular system causing it to die.
- Powdery Mildew: This fungus makes its home on leaves and twigs. Symptoms include whit, powdery marks on new leaves. In severe cases the tree's leaves will curl and drop prematurely.
- Cherry Leaf Spot: The disease produces small dark spots on the leaves. In some cases the fungus spreads and causes the leaves to yellow and drop. In other cases, white spores may form on the undersides of leaves and spread to the tree's fruit.
To a lesser degree cherry trees are also affected by cankers. The bacteria cause spots to form on the tree's leaves and lesions to form on the fruit. Another symptom is ugly sores that infest the tree's trunk, branches and limbs.The cankers ooze sap which can infect other trees.
Being able to grow and harvest your own cherries is a thrill for most homeowners. However, unless you properly care for your cherry tree, it is unlikely that you will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
In order to cultivate healthy cherry specimens, consider following these simple tips:
- Water the tree regularly. Cherry trees need moist soil to thrive.
- Space cherry trees 35 to 40 feet apart to avoid diseases from spreading.
- Prune the tree in late winter to encourage growth of new fruit.
- Add fertilizer to the soil each spring.
- Do not plant cherry trees in the shade of tall buildings, as they need full sunlight to grow.
Finally, be sure to remove fallen cherries, leaves and branches from the base of the tree to reduce the risk of disease.