Tree a Week: Cherry Tree

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The oldest tree in Japan is a 2000 years old cherry.

Characteristics and Fun Facts

  • The cherry tree is part of the Prunus and has over 400 species of flowering shrubs and trees in the rose family (Rosaceae) and can be deciduous or evergreen.
  • Prunus trees and shrubs are categorized as stone fruits, known scientifically as drupes. These also include almond, nectarine, peachplum and apricot trees.
  • The cherry can grow from 4 to 32 meters in height depending on the species. Apart from unusual Japanese cherries, most have relatively short life spans of 60 to 100 years.
  • Most cherry species are native to the Northern Hemisphere, from North America, Europe to Eastern Asia.
  • Sweet cherry (prunus avium) also known as wild cherry or gean is native to the UK and require cold winters to assist them to blossom in spring.

Uses

  • Because of it’s beautiful reddish-brown colour and hard wood it is often used to make cabinets and musical instruments.
  • The tree releases a gum that seals wounds to stop insect and fungal infection. This gum is aromatic, and is sometimes subsituted for chewing gum.
  • A green dye can also be prepared from the leaves.
  • The Japanese cherry (prunus serrulata) is most commonly used for ornamental purposes. When the flowers are in full bloom, Japanese people have a tradition of ‘ohanami’ where they have a lavish picnic underneath and get rather drunk.
Famous Sakura festival in Japan, with rows of Japanese cherry.

There are several varieties of sour cherry: morello cherry which is dark-red. The amerelle and montmorency cherry are lighter-red. These varieties are can be frozen, canned and used to bake and cook with. Wild cherries are usually consumed fresh.

Identification

Flower: The five-petaled flowers are beautiful with numerous stamens and bear drupes known as stone fruits. Note similar flowers can be found on blackthorn (sloe berry) bushes because they are part of the same family.

Blackthorn (Prunus Spinosa) Blossoms look similar to cherry but their flowers are pure white in colour compared to a creamy white.

Leaves: Leaves are oval and alternate, 7 to 14 centimeters long, and 4 to 7 centimeters broad with toothed margins, many species will bare two distinctive glands at the base of the leaf blade. They will turn orange, pink or red before falling during autumn.

Bark:

Comparisons with other types of bark.

Fruit: The whole part of the cherry plant except the fruit when ripe contains a small amount of toxin, cyanogenic glycosides.

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