The cherry tree is a fruit tree that is part of the Prunus genus and belongs to the Rosaceae family.
The tree is native to Greece and it was the Romans who spread it to the rest of the countries where the cherry or morello cherry, the fruit of the cherry tree, is now consumed on a regular basis like any other fruit.
There are different types of cherry trees, but in Spain the cherry tree from Valle del Jerte is extremely well known for being a cherry-growing area in terms of quality and quantity.
Regarding the appropriate climatic conditions for the cherry tree, we can say that it is a flexible tree that adapts to different terrains belonging to temperate climate zones .
It is a cold-tolerant tree that can withstand temperatures down to -20ºC, but the flowers can be damaged from -2ºC.
In any case, the cherry tree has a late flowering that allows it to survive late spring frosts, those to which most fruit trees are so sensitive, especially those that have early flowering.
The cherry tree is a deciduous tree that can reach 25 meters in height and 0.60 meters in diameter. The bark of its trunk is smooth and a very characteristic dark brown with reddish tones. The trunk is straight and the crown quite narrow, especially in the forest environment. The branches are grouped in annual crowns.
In youth, the bark is bright reddish gray, smooth with abundant whitish lenticels. Later horizontal bands form, and then plates, which crack. However, the crust may stay smooth for a long time.
Its leaves are more or less oval and reach 12 cm in length, with an irregular serrated edge with one or two red glands at the end of the petiole. When they fall in autumn, their color turns orange and they leave spectacular landscapes, however, in unfavorable conditions this occurs during the summer.
The flowers are white, with five petals, hermaphrodite, grouped in corymbs, cross-fertilized by insects ( bees ). Flowering occurs in the month of April / May, before the appearance of the leaves. The fruits, the cherries, develop after two months, and are of the drupe type.
Rooting depends on the characteristics of the soil. In deep terrain it forms a powerful system, contrary to what happens in shallow terrain, with an obvious danger of being carried away by the wind.
Cherry blossoms and fruit
The flowering of the cherry tree appears in small corymbs of several flowers that do not correspond to a solitary flowering or to clusters. The flowers are white with 5 petals and appear before or at the same time as the leaves.
The cherry tree seeds are spread by birds, which feed on the fruit, the cherries, although the system is not very effective due to the numerous difficulties and enemies to overcome: parasitic insects of the seeds, destruction of the seedlings for mammals (particularly cervids and rabbits), light requirements to develop, etc.
The cherry tree sprouts very well from the vine after being cut, as it has the ability to sprout from the root. The strongest regrowth occurs after a cut. In these circumstances, moreover, the young plants will probably enjoy the lighting they need to grow. This regeneration system is what causes cherry trees to often be found in small stands within forests. It is the form of reproduction that is most likely to be successful for the cherry tree, since the shoots have a lot of vitality due to enjoying an already very powerful root system.
There are different varieties of cherry. In Spain, normally, we know the typical cherries or sour cherries of the bouquet but the picotas are also very common.
As a curiosity, we will say that cherries are one of the few fruits that do not develop or mature once they are harvested, outside the tree.
Get to know the cherry tree better
The cherry tree lives close to one hundred years. It is a European and West Asian species, and can be found as a spontaneous forest species from southern Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, including the British Isles. In the Iberian Peninsula it is found in the Pyrenees and Pre-Pyrenees and the south, reaching North Africa.
It is very resistant to winter cold, however it thrives best in areas with limited cold. Thus, in France it reaches 1,700 m altitude, although its optimum is below 800 m.
It does not require large amounts of water, although it does not like extremes. It does not support water-saturated soils for a long time, nor does it withstand strong summer droughts.
During the first years it lives better with protection from excessive light, or even admits the cover, however soon it wants to receive direct lighting in its crown and cannot bear to be dominated. On the contrary, it is better that the trunks are protected from the direct action of the sun.
The wind is not a particular danger to it, except if it has shallow roots. Wet snowstorms that stick to branches can cause crown breakage.
It does not like suffocating soils, with too much water or very compact, as it requires aeration. It likes moist soils.
It is a tree that is very resistant to cold and fairly dry, which, grafted on the Prunus mahaleb species, can also be grown on calcareous soils. The flowering from the end of March to the beginning of April normally allows to escape the danger of frost.
The varieties currently used (“Burlat”, “Napoleon”, “Van”, “Ambrunesa or Picota”, etc.) are of French or American origin with larger and sweeter cherries than the old types. Very recently, self-compatible varieties have been introduced (“Summit”, “Sunburst”, “Stella”, etc.) which therefore do not need other types of pollinators to bear fruit.
The most frequent cherry tree diseases are gummosis (gum emission produced by physiological causes or as a result of insect attack) and root rot caused by soil fungi. In Europe, one of the main pests is the cherry fruit fly (Rhagoletis cerasi), which damages the fruit.
The Japanese variant under which the arrival of spring is celebrated is the Prunus serrulata, also called the Japanese Cherry, widely cultivated throughout Asia for ornamental uses, although its fruit is also edible. In Japanese, this kind of cherry tree is called Sakura. Botanists make predictions to try to guess the exact day that the Sakura petals will fall in each of the regions. Just as the petals fall, people gather below and celebrate the arrival of good weather.
Due to the beauty and delicacy of the flowers, the cherry tree is associated with gentlemen apart from good weather.
Robert Asprin, APD is a non-dieting Accredited Practicing Dietitian passionate about inspiring positive changes in eating and lifestyle behaviors to help improve health while nurturing relationships with food and body.