Sweet cherry (Prunus avium) is a small to medium deciduous tree with a cone-shaped crown and short, crooked trunk. Leaves are long. Twigs are reddish gray, with clustered, burgundy buds on short spur twigs. Bark on young trunks is smooth, reddish to gray with noticeable lenticels. Mature trunks are smooth gray-brown, sometimes peeling with noticeable horizontal bands. Flowers are white. Fruit ripens in early summer as dark red berries. The sweet cherry is common and fully naturalized in North America, where it has been cultivated prior to 1600. The tree is best known as a woodland tree. This tree is the parent of many domestic sweet cherries grown for their edible fruit (though P. avium fruit is not as sweet or tasty as the cultivars). The tree is also used as the under-stock for grafted orchard trees. Prunus is the Latin word for “plum” or “cherry” and avium is the Latin word for “bird” (who are attracted to the fruit). The tree has been cultured for many years for its fruit, timber and fuel. If P. avium is left alone it will sucker widely.
Common name: Sweet Cherry, Wild Cherry, Bird Cherry, Mazzard Cherry, Wild Sweet Cherry, Gean.
Scientific Name (family and order): Prunus avium L. (Rosaceae, Rosales)
Species Origin: Europe, West Asia.
New Jersey Status: USDA Introduced
Habit: 15’ -30’ high x 15’ -30’ wide;.
Habitat: Zone 3 – 8. Woods and hedgerows.
Trunk/Stem: Bark glossy red-brown, peeling in horizontal bands. Prominent horizontal lenticels.
Leaves: Deciduous, Simple, Alternate. Ellipitic or obovate, 6” long and 2 ½” wide, tapered tip margins with sharply serrated. Top of leaf matte deep green; bottom of leaf pale green. There are 10 – 14 pairs of veins per leaf. The petiole is up to 2” long with two conspicuous glands at its junction with the blade. The leaves turn orange, red or yellow in fall.
Flowers: Perfect. Flowers 1 ¼” wide, white with five large petals, borne in 3 -5 flower clusters in mid-spring just before or as the leaves emerge. Prunus flowers have 5 petals and 5-lobed sepals, numerous stamens, solitary pistil, superior ovary.
Fruits and seeds: Drupe; red, bitter on long pedicel.