Scientific Classification:

Kingdom Plantae
Division Magnoliophyta
Class Magnoliopsida
Order Rosales
Family Rosaceae
Genus Prunus
Species P. avium
Binomial name Prunus avium

Other Common Names:

The other common names for Cherry are Bird Cherry, Gean, Mazzard, Mazzard Cherry, Sweet Cherry and Wild Cherry.


Prunus avium originated in the area between the Black and Caspian seas of Asia Minor. Birds may have carried it to Europe prior to human civilization. Cultivation probably began with Greeks, and was perpetuated by Romans, where it was believed to be an essential part of the Legionnaire's diet (this lead to the spread throughout Europe). Trees were planted along roadsides and were valued for their timber as well as their fruit.

Sweet cherries came to the USA with English Colonists in 1629, and later were introduced to California by Spanish Missionaries. In the 1800's sweet cherries were moved west by pioneers and fur traders to their major sites of production in Washington, Oregon, and California. The Latin scientific name, cerasus, identifies the cherry family. The derivation is traced back to Greece where it was named kerasos. Some believe this name came from an ancient city of that name in Asia Minor, now Turkey, while others speculate the city came by its name from the abundance of cherries that grew there.


Shallow root system, predominantly horizontally spreading with dense fibrous roots. The main side roots are very strong, often board-like, vertical roots are less developed, in 50 to 70 year old trees on deep loess-loam only around 60 cm deep, on silt-loam to a maximum depth of 100 cm.Medium sized tree with a rounder, more spreading habit than the erect sweet cherry. Leaves elliptic with acute tips mildly serrate margins, smaller than sweet cherry, with long petioles .

White, with long pedicels, borne in racemose clusters of 2-5 flowers on short spurs with multiple buds at tips; the distal bud is vegetative and continues spur growth. Spurs are long-lived, producing for 10-12 years. Ovary position is perigynous with a distinct hypanthium, characteristic of stone fruits. A drupe ½" to 1 1/4", round or heart-shaped, glabrous, with long pedicel attached. The pit is generally smooth, and encloses a single seed. The skin colour is generally deep red or purple (often referred to as "black"), yellow, or rarely white. Yellow fruit often have a red cheek. The flesh colour varies from white to dark red. Fruit is borne on short spurs that arise from older wood. Sweet cherries require only about 2-3 months for fruit development.


Sweet cherries are closely related to the wild cherries that were indigenous in the region of the Caucasus Mountains that lie between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. The southern portion, now Azerbaijian, as well as northern Turkey and Iran, were also home to the sweet cherry. It is widely distributed in Europe to Asia Minor, Caucasus and western Siberia. In Germany very common in low mountain ranges, in south and south-western Germany in the Alps to an altitude of 1700 m.


Cherry is generally found in deciduous and coniferous woodlands with a well developed under storey, usually in oak-hornbeam woodlands, on woodland edges, streams, in scrub vegetation, hedges and hedgerows; on deep, nutrient-rich, moist and calcareous loamy soils.


Seeds require 2 - 3 months cold stratification and are best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible. Protect the seed from mice etc. The seed can be rather slow, sometimes taking 18 months to germinate. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow them on in a greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year. Cuttings of half-ripe wood with a heel, July/August in a frame. Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame. Division of suckers in the dormant season. They can be planted out direct into their permanent positions followed by layering in spring.

Flowering Season

White, in clusters, single flowers is 2.5 cm wide, appearing shortly before the leaves in April to May.

Pests and Diseases

The causal agent is Pseudomonas syringae pv morsprunorum. Susceptible trees include Prunus avium (wild cherry) and its ornamental and fruiting varieties and other Prunus species including plums, peach and apricot. Symptoms usually consist of scattered shoots which fail to flush in the spring, but sometimes this can affect entire branches or even whole young trees. Close inspection will reveal large areas of dead and dying bark, usually girdling shoots or branches, and an amber coloured gum also exudes from affected areas. The most destructive pest to attack cherry trees is birds. They can strip every fruit from a cherry tree in record time. Netting should be used to prevent birds from stripping fruits. Other pests that may affect cherry trees are aphids, cherry maggot, and plum curculio. Two diseases which might be found on cherry trees are brown rot (Sclerotinia fructigena) and cherry leaf spot (Blumeriella jaapii or Coccomyces hiemalis).

Parts Used


The bark and the fruit are the most commonly used parts of the tree for its commercial and medicinal purposes.

Medicinal Applications


• Herbal wild cherry syrups are anti-viral & anti-bacterial and most helpful for sinus, upper respiratory infections, colds & flu.

• Medicine can be prepared from the stalks of the drupes that are astringent, antitussive, and diuretic.

• A decoction is used in the treatment of cystitis, oedema, bronchial complaints, looseness of the bowels and anaemia.

Commercial Applications


• It is used in many commercial cough products such as Smith Brothers, Lunden's and Vicks for the flavour as well as the decongestant and sedative properties.

• The wood is used for turnery, furniture and instruments.

• The gum from bark wounds is aromatic and can be chewed as a substitute for chewing gum.

• A green dye can also be prepared from the plant.

• The fruit can be cooked in pies etc or used to make preserves.

• It is used in salad dressing and cakes.


According to the astro reports the cherry tree is under the dominion of the planet Venus.

Folklores and Myths

The owner of a Cherry tree could be sure of having a rich crop of fruit if the first cherry to ripen was eaten by a woman who recently gave birth to her first child. Forest demons were believed to live in Cherry trees according to Danish folklore. In Lithuania the guardian of the Cherry was called 'Kirnis'. According to Serbian folklore the 'Vila' is beautiful female creatures similar to Fairies and Elves. These mystical creatures live in the hills and forests, often by Cherry trees loving to pass their time singing and dancing.

Always clad in white, with long hair the only danger they cause is the breaking of men's hearts as they fly over. When travelling through the forests the Vila make a sound similar to that of the woodpecker, and ride seven year old stags which are bridled with snakes. Folklore has it that should a parent discipline a child and indicate that they have the Devil in them, or should be sent to him, then the Vila are thought to have a right to take the child, perhaps to protect it. Buddhism teaches that Maya, the virgin mother of Buddha, was supported by a holy cherry tree during her pregnancy.