Learn more about sweet cherry trees, how they differ from the other types of cherry trees, how they reproduce and the various growing conditions that they require to thrive.
Otherwise known as the wild cherry tree, the gean cherry tree, or most popularly, the bird cherry tree, the sweet cherry tree is a flowering plant that is a proud member of the rose family (Rosaceae). This cherry variety is best known for its contribution to fresh-eating cherries, whereas the sour cherry tree or tart cherry (Prunus cerasus) is known as a cooking cherry.
These trees are native to Europe and western Asia but have become naturalized since their original cultivation to many other regions including North America, New Zealand, and Australia.
They are not only used for their delicious edible fruits, but for their high quality and attractive wood, and as ornamental trees as well.
Curious about other types of fruit trees? We’ve created a one-stop-shop for everything that is trees, with this crazy list of 101 Types of Trees from all around the world. Ranging from deciduous to evergreen, tiny to giant, super well known to extremely rare trees, we’ve explored every nook and cranny of what trees the world has to offer.
What does Sweet Cherry Trees Look Like?
Cherry trees are known for having very shallow root systems. Because they will only grow in regions that receive a moderate amount of annual precipitation which encourages year-round moist soil, their roots do not need to grow deep into the earth to access moisture reserves. They will usually grow a maximum of 12 inches into the soil.
Cherry tree roots also tend to exhibit very wide-spreading growth. Roots will spread out 2 to sometimes 3 times as wide as the spread of the canopy! This is important to keep in mind when planting cherry trees, as they may need more space underground than it may appear above ground.
The sweet cherry tree is a medium-sized tree, usually lingering around 15 meters in height, but wild cherry trees can sometimes reach over 30 meters! Sweet cherry trees are mostly cultivated however and are usually kept to shorter heights so that their fruit is easier to harvest. Larger trees will have trunks of up to 1.5 meters in diameter.
Sweet cherry trees are known for having a very manicured and attractive shape. They naturally grow very straight trunks with symmetrical and conical-shaped crowns. In older trees, the crown will exhibit more of a rounded irregular shape.
A young cherry tree will have very smooth bark that is a dark purple/brown color. The bark will commonly have many horizontally arranged lenticels. A mature tree will have darker bark and will have developed darkly colored fissures as well.
Sweet cherry tree leaves are alternately arranged on the twig, 2-6 inches long, and are a simple, broad, ovoid shape. A leaf will have a green matte top side and a finely downy underside. Leaves have a serrated margin with an acuminate tip, ad a petiole that is either a red or green color. When autumn comes around, sweet cherry leaves will turn either orange, red, or pink before falling off.
How do Sweet Cherry Trees Reproduce?
Flowers borne on a sweet cherry tree are hermaphroditic, meaning that they possess both female sexual characteristics and male sexual characteristics. Cherry trees are able to self-pollinate, meaning that the pollen from a flower can fertilize the anther of the same flower or a flower on the same plant. Sweet cherry trees can also receive pollination from bees.
A sweet cherry flower is a white flower with 5 perfect petals and yellow stamens. They are borne in clusters of 2-5 and emerge in the early spring at the same time as the new spring foliage.
Once a flower is fertilized, it will produce fruit in the form of a drupe, or small stone fruit. This is what we know as a cherry! This fruit ripens in the middle of summer and is edible. They are sweet, but slightly bitter when eaten fresh.
This sweet fruit will be either a bright red or dark red/purple color with thin skin. The flesh inside is of a similar color and is very juicy. At the center of the fruit lies a single, hard-shelled stone, or seed.
These stones are eaten by birds and small mammals who eat the flesh and then disperse the seeds through their feces. Some species of rodents will also eat the fruit, find the stone, and crack it open to eat the kernel inside. Cherry season is a party for all animal species!
Tops of grafted trees when planted in the garden may start producing fruit in 2-4 years, whereas a tree that has been planted directly from seed may take anywhere from 7-10 years to start producing flowers and the subsequent fruit. This isn’t a very long time to be able to harvest, as the common sweet cherry tree has a lifespan of 15-20 years, with some exceptional trees living to be 30. Growing cherry trees is a rather short-lived event!
What Are Some Other Types of Cherry Trees?
The Black Tartarian Cherry Tree
Black Tartarian cherries are an heirloom cultivar variety of sweet cherry trees. They are quite rare, with a very unique taste and texture. They are not produced commercially because the fruit they produce is very too delicate to be shipped to faraway locations. They are known as vigorous growers and incredibly dark and sweet-tasting cherries.
The Nanking Cherry Tree
Nanking cherries (Prunus tomentosa) are a species of cherry tree that is native to China. They are more of a shrub than a tree, and they are more closely related to the plum than a cherry. They are also known as dwarf cherry trees or Shanghai cherry trees.
The Lapins Cherry Tree
Lapin cherries are also marketed at Cherokee cherries. This is a cherry cultivar that was created in British Columbia. They are known for having very good splitting resistance.
The Bing Cherry Tree
Bing cherries or black cherry (Prunus avium) are sweet cherry varieties that originated in the Pacific Northwest of North America. They are the most produced sweet cherry cultivar in the United States, and they are probably the fresh cherries you get from the grocery store.
The Sour Cherry Tree
Sour cherries (prunus cerasus) have been as widely cultivated as the sweet cherry tree. They are a much smaller tree that grows more slowly and lives less long than sweet cherry trees. They are known as pie cherries!
What Pests Affect the Sweet Cherry Tree?
Like many other species of fruit trees, sweet cherry trees are susceptible to many types of pests, diseases, and insects. Understandably so, as the fragrant flowers and sweet fruits they produce are designed to attract pollinators, they attract unwelcome guests as well.
Some diseases include:
- leaf spot
- bacterial canker
- black knot
- crown gall
- leaf curl
- leaf scorch
- brown rot
- powdery mildew
- root rot
- shot hole fungus
And some insects that invade the tree include:
- fruit flies
- lepidopteran (moths and butterflies) larvae
Where do Sweet Cherry Trees Grow?
Sweet cherries have been eaten by humans for several thousands of years. There are sweet cherry stone deposits that have been found and aged to come from bronze age settlements, which was around 2077 BCE! It is thought that by 800 BCE, that sweet cherry trees were cultivated in many parts of Asia.
Since then, sweet cherry trees have been naturalized to almost all of the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. They are especially popular in Europe, China, Japan, Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia. They will grow in USDA zone 3 through 8.
What are the Growing Conditions of Sweet Cherry Trees?
Sweet cherry trees prefer to live in soil the is derived from limestone. They thrive in loamy soils that are deep, moist, well-drained, and rich in nutrients. They will not tolerate waterlogged soils.
Sweet cherries prefer moderate levels of annual precipitation, as long as the soil is moist throughout the entire year.
Though sweet cherry trees can survive in partial shade, they will prosper in full sun conditions. This is usually the case with fruit tree planting.
How are Sweet Cherry Trees Used?
Cherry wood is a very valued hardwood for its lovely red/brown color and density. This wood is often used for woodturning, cabinets, and high end musical instrument manufacturing. Cherry wood is also highly prized for meat smoking, as the smoke gives off a very pleasant aroma and unique flavoring.
Because of their stunning sprays of white flowers, sweet cherry trees are also commonly used as ornamental trees for parks, gardens, and streets. They are the perfect sign that spring has arrived, as they will be one of the very first plants to bloom at the end of winter, lining streets with stunning displays of white flurries.
Sweet cherry trees will excrete medicinal and sweet flavored gum from a branch wound. This gum has traditionally been collected and used for its medicinal purposes, or it can be used as chewing gum as well!
The twigs and leaves of the sweet cherry tree can be harvested and boiled down to be used for natural dyeing. The color produced is a very earthy green color.