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What is a Sour Cherry Tree?

This is a single sour cherry tree on a hilly field with bright red fruits.

Prunus Cerasus

The sour cherry tree goes by a couple of other names, including the tart cherry tree or the dwarf cherry tree. This small deciduous tree is native to certain parts of Europe and southwestern Asia, though they have been naturalized all over the world since their early cultivation.

These trees are very closely related to the sweet cherry tree (Prunus avium), with the main difference found in the quality of their fruits. It is probably obvious already that the sour cherry tree produces fruit that is far more acidic and tart, and the sweet cherry tree produces fruit that is sweet and tangy!

This fruit tree is known as the “tart cherry tree” or “pie cherry” in the United States, and it is responsible for providing the great majority of cherry products that we have access to regularly. When baked and cooked, the sour cherry becomes superbly delicious and goes into making maraschino cherries, dried cherries, cherry preserves, cherry juice, and many other products. They are delicious, but they are also high in antioxidants, making them good for you too.

Wondering about some other fruit trees that can be grown in North America? What about trees in general? We’ve compiled an amazing list of 101 Types of Trees, ranging from evergreens to conifers, small trees to giant trees, rare trees to common trees. No matter what type of tree you are looking for, it is likely to be on that list!

Related: Sweet Cherry Tree | Pin Cherry Tree | Black Cherry Tree | Types of Cherry Wood |  Types of CherriesTypes of Cherry Blossoms

What do Sour Cherry Trees Look Like?

Root System

Because cherry trees will often grow in areas that have moist soil all year round, they do not have to dive deep into the earth to access moisture reserves. For this reason, they have root systems that will main quite shallow in the soil, never growing too much deeper than 12-16 inches. These roots are quite wide-spreading however, and will often grow 2 to 3 times as wide as the spread of their canopy.


Cherry trees are rather small trees but are also cultivated to be smaller for easier maintenance, and easier fruit harvesting. They will remain at heights between 4-10 meters.

Growth Pattern

Cherry trees have rather thin trunks, with upward ascending branches that start their growth quite low on the trunk. These twiggy branches grow densely together and create a nice shade canopy.


This is a close look at the brown and green bark of a sour cherry tree.

A young cherry tree will commonly have smooth, dark gray/red gray bark that is covered in horizontal lenticels.


This is a close look at the foliage and fruits of a sour cherry tree.

Sour cherry tree leaves are ovate in shape that meets in pointed tips on either end. A leaf has a coarsely serrated margin and noticeable veins on either side. Leaves are a bright forest green color that changes to yellow in autumn before they fall.

How do Sour Cherry Trees Reproduce?


This is a close look at the beautiful white flowers of a sour cherry tree.

Cherry trees produce flowers in small clusters. A flower will be either light pink or white in color with 5 petals. These blooms emerge in the very early spring, even before spring foliage does, and creates an incredible spray of sweet-smelling flowers.

Sour cherry trees are self-fruitful. This means that the pollen from one flower to another of the same flower, or another flower growing on the same plant. You only need one cherry tree to be able to produce fruit, and they don’t need pollinators to help out either!


These are clusters of ripe red sour cherries.

Once a sour cherry tree is successfully pollinated, it will produce a stone fruit in the form of a cherry! Sour cherries can come in two varieties; the dark red Morello cherry, or the light red Amarello cherry.

These cherries are very small with thin skin and a juicy flesh flush with red juice. Morello cherries have a very deep red flesh, whereas Amarello cherries have more of a yellow flesh with clear juice. These fruits are quite acidic, sour, and very high in antioxidants as well. Sour cherries will be ready for harvest in early June.

Sexual Maturity

The average sour cherry tree will start producing flowers between 7 and 10 years of age. This doesn’t give the tree all that many years to produce fruit crops, as their life expectancy is only 15-20 years! Sweet cherry trees only live 20-30 years by comparison, whereas larger cherry trees, like the black cherry tree, can live to be over 250.

What Are Some Types of Sour Cherry Trees?

The Montmorency Cherry Tree

Montmorency cherries are a cultivar of the sour cherry tree that is most commonly grown in Europe, the United States, and Canada. They are part of the lighter red cherry cultivar, the Amarelle cherry tree.

The North Star Cherry Tree

North star cherries are a cultivar of sour cherry tree that was actually created at the University of Minnesota, which is otherwise known as the North Star State. This is a dwarf cultivar the produces a medium-sized bright red mahogany-colored cherry.

The Nanking Cherry Tree

Nanking cherries (prunus tormentosa) are a dwarf variety that is native to China. This dwarf tree cherry variety is otherwise known as a Shanghai cherry tree, Manchu cherry tree, mountain cherry tree, Chinese bush, or Chinese dwarf sour cherry tree.

Where do Sour Cherry Trees Grow?

Cherry species are restricted to the northern hemisphere of the planet as they are relatively cold hardy, and require mild summers and cool winters in order to bear fruit. These regions usually occur in hardiness zones 3 or 4.

Wild cherry trees are native to Europe and southwestern Asia, though since their early cultivation they have been naturalized in the United States and Canada as well. Sour cherry tree seedlings were brought to North America by English settlers, and they were first planted in the great lakes regions.

What are the Growing Conditions of Sour Cherry Trees?

This is a close look at an orchard of sour cherry trees.


Sour cherry trees prefer to grow in soil that is well-drained, moist, and rich in nitrogen. They do not tolerate waterlogged soils whatsoever.

Sun Exposure

Cherry trees prefer to exist in all-day full sun exposure. Growing cherries is better done in open areas with no larger trees around.

Water Level

Cherry trees require all year moist soil, and therefore can only exist in areas that receive moderate amounts of precipitation throughout the year.

What Pests Affect Sour Cherry Trees?

This is a close look at the orchard of sour cherry trees with vernal blooming.

Like most other fruit trees that heavily attracts, insects, pests, and animals, sour cherry trees are commonly affected by the following maladies and pests:

  • bacterial canker
  • leaf spots
  • leaf scorch
  • fungal infection
  • root rot

How is Sour Cherry Trees Used?


This is a close look at a brid eating a sour cherry on a tree.

It is no secret that insects and animals love cherries just as much as they do. Sour cherry trees provide a very important source of nutrition to many animals, bird, and insect species in their growing regions.


This is a close look at clusters of sour cherries ready to be harvested.

Sour cherry varieties are responsible for much of the cherry products that we have access to. They are what goes into the making of dried cherries, maraschino cherries, cherry syrup, and liqueur. These precious fruits also can be used to make fermented beer. And never forget about fresh eating!

They tend to lose some of their acidity when they are cooked, making them an excellent choice for soups, cakes, tarts, and of course, the cherry pie. Sour cherries also tend to hold their shape better than sweet cherries and are often used in baking for aesthetic value as well. Just don’t forget to buy a cherry pitter!