Cherry trees are gorgeous trees with prolific cheerful early spring flowers to brighten the mood throughout the temperate world, signaling the end of winter and the coming of spring.
Whether they are ornamental, grown for flowers, or if they are grown for fruit production of their delicious cherries, they are lovely trees indeed.
There are so many different types of cherry trees out there. I will show you some of the different species and teach you how to identify them.
Cherries are all part of the Prunus genus in the Rosaceae (rose) family.
They’re native throughout temperate North America, Europe, and Asia, with about 480 distinct species that began evolving about 44 million years ago.
Cherries and plums both share the same Prunus genus and are very similar. I will also teach you the subtle botanical differences between a cherry and a plum.
Cherry Tree Identification (With Photos)
Identifying Cherry Trees by Their Leaf Shape
All Prunus species have alternate leaves. Usually, one leaf per node is arranged alternately on each side of the stem. Sometimes there are clusters of multiple leaves on short shoots that are arranged alternately on the branches.
Prunus never have oppositely arranged leaves in opposite pairs at the node, which will help differentiate them from some of the other trees with simple leaves.
Most species have simple leaves that are not lobed or compound, but rare exceptions do exist.
Most cherries have deciduous leaves that usually turn color in the autumn before falling off. They return the following spring, often after the flowers have bloomed but sometimes before or with the flowers.
Some species have evergreen leaves that tend to look very laurel-like, though laurels are completely unrelated.
Cherry leaves can be elliptic (shaped like an ellipse, widest in the middle and narrowing at both ends), oblong (having parallel sides and mostly rounded tips and bases), ovate (egg-shaped, widest at the base), obovate (egg-shaped, widest at the tip), lanceolate (like ovate but narrower, with a length-to-width ratio of 3:1 or greater and widest at the base), or oblanceolate (like lanceolate but widest at the tip).
Sometimes leaves can also be oval (like elliptic but much wider in the middle) or somewhat cordate (heart-shaped), though these are much less common.
These same shape terms are also used to describe petals or other features.
Identifying Cherry Trees by Their Leaf Tips (Apex)
The shape of the leaf tip is another useful tool in identifying the different types of cherry trees.
Cherry leaves have tips that are often acuminate (narrowing to a fine point) and could be short, long, or sometimes caudate (long-acuminate but with an extended, often curved thin tail-like tip).
They are also often acute (the two sides narrow to an angle of less than 90°), or sometimes obtuse (the two sides are angled at greater than 90°), rounded (no edges), or rarely emarginate (notched).
These same terms are frequently used to describe petals and other features.
Identifying Cherry Trees by Their Leaf Bases
Leaf bases also vary between species and can sometimes be used to identify the different types of cherry trees.
Cherry leaf bases can be cuneate (wedged or angled at less than 90°, also sometimes called acute), rounded (no obvious edges), obtuse (angled at greater than 90°), or rarely almost cordate (indented with the petiole in the indent, heart-shaped).
Identifying Cherry Trees by Their Leaf Margins
Cherry leaf margins are typically serrated, having sharp or blunt teeth, like a saw. Sometimes they are crenate (rounded-toothed) or crenate-serrate, which is kind of in-between the two.
Sometimes they are double serrated where the teeth have their own teeth, and other times they may be entire (without any teeth) or undulate (wavy-edged).
Identifying Cherry Trees by Their Leaf Glands
Cherry trees also often have small, usually inconspicuous glands on the tips of their serrated teeth. Other times they may have glands in between their teeth. Sometimes they have callus-tipped teeth instead, which are discolored and usually hardened at the tip.
Cherry trees, and most of the Prunus genus, also usually have 1 – 8 more conspicuous glands on their petioles, usually right below their leaf bases. They can be small or large and may vary in color. Sometimes the size, color, or placement of these glands and whether or not they touch the leaf base or are located below it can be used to help identify certain species.
These conspicuous petiolar glands often secrete a sugary substance, so they are considered to be a type of extra-floral nectary. If you take a look at them, sometimes you will see ants feeding on their sugary goodness, proving that they are, in fact, nectaries.
Identifying Cherry Trees by Their Hairs and Other Surface Features
Cherry trees also sometimes have hairs on their leaves or other surfaces that can be used to help the different types of cherry trees.
Botanists have a lot of different terms to describe the various plant hairs, also called trichomes. Sometimes surfaces are just described as hairy, but knowing what kind of hair really helps to identify different species.
Cherry tree hairs may be puberulent (soft and very short, often downy or velvety to the touch), pubescent (soft hairs, longer than puberulent but not as long as pilose), or tomentose (long, curled, and matted).
They may also have glands on their leaves, sepals, and buds. The glands are sometimes stalked or sometimes sessile.
Sometimes leaf surfaces, mostly just the lower leaf surface, are glaucous with an epicuticular waxy coating that gives it a dull blue-gray appearance and can be easily rubbed off.
Some leaves are rugose or wrinkled, usually caused by indentations along the leaf veins that give them a wrinkled appearance.
Identifying Cherry Trees by Their Flowers
Cherry trees are part of the Rosaceae or rose family, and like the rest of their family, they almost always have functionally bisexual flowers with both male and female organs in the same flower.
Like all members of the rose family, they also have five free petals (not joined into a tube) and five sepals that may or may not be free. The petals of most cherry trees have notched (emarginate) tips.
Cherry flowers also have multiple stamens. Stamens are the male reproductive structure of a flower and are composed of a filament (stalk) and an anther (the male pollen-producing and releasing structure).
In cherries, there are usually between 10 – 30 stamens, typically in multiples of five stamens that are of unequal lengths within the flower but are usually shorter or equal in length to the petals. The number of stamens and the color of their filaments and anthers can help identify the different types of cherry trees.
All cherry species also have a single pale green pistil – the female reproductive organs that consist of an ovary (where the seeds develop and fruit forms), a style (a stalk that supports the stigma), and a stigma (the receptive surface that receives the pollen).
Cherry trees have a cylindrical style topped with a bulbous pale green stigma that can be seen in the center of the flower and is surrounded by the usually slightly shorter stamens.
It is more difficult to see the ovary in most Prunus species without dissecting the flower because they are often obscured by the stamens and are half-superior and partially embedded in the receptacle.
The pistils in Prunus species vary little within the genus and typically are not used to help aid in identification between species, but can be used to help identify the genus.
Identifying Cherry Trees by Their Inflorescences
Inflorescences are the arrangement of flowers into a coherent group. They are composed of two or more flowers that may or may not be on pedicels (stalks), and the entire group may or may not be on a peduncle (the stalk of the inflorescence itself).
Some inflorescences, like racemes, are made of flowers arranged on a central stalk known as a rachis. The rachis is located above the peduncle if both are present. There is often no defining line between the two other than the rachis begins where the first flower is found, and below that is the peduncle.
Other inflorescences have no rachis since their flowers arise from a single point, like an umbel. These types of inflorescences may or may not have pedicels and peduncles.
Some inflorescences also have bracts subtending either the individual flowers or the inflorescence itself. Bracts are usually leaf-like appendages that help protect the developing flowers.
Cherry tree flowers may be borne singly (not in a group) or in 2 – 100-flowered racemes, corymbs, umbels, or fascicles. These can be useful in identifying the different types of cherry trees.
Fascicles are simply clusters of flowers in a tight group arising from the same point without a rachis to attach to. They are often simply called clusters, the catch-all term for a tight group of flowers.
Many inflorescences are difficult to determine and appear to be something they are not. Flowers often obscure the inflorescence, and sometimes inflorescences are so condensed they appear to be an umbel or a fascicle when they are actually a condensed raceme or corymb. When this happens, we often use more ambiguous terms like ‘clusters’ to differentiate them from flowers that are borne singly or from those with more obvious inflorescence types.
Umbels or umbellate inflorescences (false umbels) are an umbrella-like arrangement, with all the flowers appearing from the same node and their pedicels being about the same length. There is no rachis.
Corymbs appear superficially like umbels, having a more-or-less flat-topped inflorescence. But the flowers do not all arise from the same point but instead arise from different points on a rachis. Those lower on the rachis have longer pedicels than those higher up, so the flowers still sit about the same height. A corymb is sometimes incorrectly called a flat-topped raceme.
Racemes are similar to corymbs, with flowers arising on pedicels along a central rachis. The placement of the pedicels is usually at equal distances along the rachis. Unlike a corymb, the pedicels are all the same length, so the flowers sit at different heights along the rachis.
Identifying Cherry Trees by Their Fruits
All cherry trees, and all Prunus species, produce drupes. A drupe is a fruit with a usually thin skin (exocarp), a fleshy or sometimes dry and leathery pulp (mesocarp), and a central stony pit (endocarp) that contains the seed.
Cherry drupes can be very small, less than ¼”, with very little flesh that may be fleshy or leathery.
Or they can be larger and fleshier, up to about an inch wide or larger. The larger ones are often sweeter but may be sour, and these are the ones we tend to eat.
Drupes may be various shades of red, yellow, greenish-yellow, or dark purple to black. They are usually more or less rounded but can also be oval, oblong, heart-shaped, or ellipsoid in shape.
Identifying Cherry Trees by Their Bark
Most cherry trees have the unique “cherry bark” we are used to seeing. Cherry bark tends to be red, reddish-brown, reddish-gray, or gray.
It usually starts out shiny and smooth with numerous conspicuous horizontal lenticels. Lenticels are pores in the bark’s surface, allowing for gas exchange with the atmosphere.
Sometimes it remains relatively smooth with lenticels when it matures, though it generally becomes less shiny. Other times it develops shallow grooves (furrows) as it ages.
Occasionally cherry bark is exfoliating, peeling in horizontal strips.
Rarely the bark is thin and papery, peeling in papery strips that may be horizontal or irregular.
What is the Difference Between a Cherry and a Plum Tree
People don’t often know how closely related cherries and plums are until they grow both trees themselves. They can be difficult to tell apart in the tree form and sometimes even in fruit when dealing with non-edible plums.
Cherries and plums are all from the Prunus genus. They have similar leaves, produce similar flowers with five free petals, one pistil, and usually 10 – 30 stamens, and all produce drupes as their fruit.
So what is the difference, then? The answer is not really that much.
However, there are some ways that you can tell them apart. As you will see, no hard and fast strict rule determines one from the other. The rules are kind of fuzzy, to begin with, and numerous exceptions exist.
The flowers of plums tend to be very fragrant. The flowers of cherries are sometimes very fragrant, although many cultivars now exist that are very fragrant.
The petals of most cherry trees have notched (emarginate) tips. Sometimes these notches are very conspicuous, and sometimes they are barely noticeable. Plum petal margins may be smooth or somewhat irregular but are usually not conspicuously notched.
Cherry bark almost always has conspicuous lenticels, but not always. Plums can have smooth dark bark without lenticels, but numerous exceptions exist where lenticels are present.
Plum leaves can be more purple naturally than most cherries, but again, numerous purple-leaved cherry cultivars now exist.
Plum tree habit (overall form or shape) tends to be round or oval, while cherry trees are more widely spreading, so they are wider at the top of the tree than the bottom. However, habit can vary significantly with age and growing conditions.
Cherry drupes tend to be much smaller than plums, particularly cultivated varieties where plums can exceed 3” in diameter while cherries seldom exceed 1”. Although apricot-sized cherries have been grown, so this difference may become obscured in future cultivars.
Small wild plums can still be distinguished from cherries by how they come off the tree. Cherries usually come off the tree with their pedicel (stalk) still attached. When you pick a plum, it usually breaks off at the top of the fruit with the pedicel remaining attached to the tree.
The simplest and usually more accurate ‘rules’ are the notched petals combined with how the fruit breaks off the tree.
16 Different Types of Cherry Trees & Their Identifying Features
1. Japanese Flowering Cherry (Prunus serrulata)
Japanese Flowering Cherry is one of the most common ornamental flowering trees popular for its prolific cheerful blossoms that appear in late winter or early spring.
The type species is a tall tree that grows up to 75 ft, but most cultivars are much shorter and feature semi-double or double flowers in pink or white that may or may not be fragrant.
Depending on the cultivar, fall color ranges from bronze to red to yellow.
They are low-maintenance trees that adapt to most soil types, provided it is well-drained.
They require direct sun for at least 4 – 6 hours per day, and while they are somewhat drought tolerant once established, they will perform best with irrigation.
It can be prone to damage from caterpillars, leaf-mining moths, bullfinches, silver leaf, bacterial canker, and blossom wilt.
While listed as introduced in North America, it is not considered invasive anywhere at this time.
Identifying Features of the Japanese Flowering Cherry
Japanese Flowering Cherry is usually a small to medium-sized tree.
It has ascending branches in a vase-shaped crown that often becomes rounded and spreading when mature.
The bark is smooth, glossy reddish-brown, with prominent horizontal lenticels.
It has ovate to lanceolate leaves up to 5” long on short petioles that appear with or just after the flowers. They are dark green above and paler green below, with serrated or sometimes doubly serrated margins and often long-acuminate tips.
Flowers appear in umbellate clusters of 2 – 5 per node with five white to pink non-fragrant, conspicuously notched petals and usually 10 – 20 usually pink stamens.
Cultivars may feature semi-double, double, or more petals and may be fragrant. Sometimes the stamens are replaced by additional petals in many-petaled cultivars.
Fruits are pea-sized blackish bitter drupes that appear in late summer, but many cultivars are sterile grafted species that produce no fruits.
Often Confused With: Japanese Flowering Cherry is often confused with Cherry-Plum, which tends not to have lenticels, has flowers that are borne singly rather than in clusters, and produces a larger drupe up to 1” wide. Sometimes it is also confused with Taiwan Cherry (Prunus campanulata), but that one has unique flowers that appear more bell-shaped and droop downwards.
Other Common Names: Cherry Blossom, East Asian Cherry, Oriental Cherry, Japanese Cherry, Yamazakura
Native Area: Japan, China, Korea
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 30 ft (to 75 ft) tall, 15 – 25 ft spread
Some Cultivars Available (left to right):
- Mount Fuji Japanese Flowering Cherry Prunus serrulata ‘Mount Fuji’ produces abundant large white flowers with a pleasant fragrance that attract loads of pollinators and are followed by tiny cherries that are loved by birds – Image via Nature Hills
- Kwanzan Cherry Tree Prunus serrulata ‘Kwanzan’ is a popular cultivar with beautiful double pink flowers in huge dense clusters for lots of spring color. Fall color brings a beautiful gold to the landscape – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Shirofugen Flowering Cherry Prunus serrulata ‘Shirofugen’ is unique for its color-changing flowers that start out pink, turn white, then turn deep pink and have a delightful fragrance. Flowers are sterile and produce no fruit – Image via Nature Hills
- Royal Burgundy Flowering Cherry Prunus serrulata ‘Royal Burgundy’ has pretty pink early spring flowers with a stunning fragrance and burgundy colored leaves for color all season long – Image via Nature Hills
2. Wild Cherry (Prunus avium)
Wild Cherry is generally grown as a large ornamental tree for large gardens but does produce edible fruits.
This is the parent strain that most of our sweet cherry cultivars (see cultivars below) sold today are bred from. Although its fruits are generally smaller and less sweet, they are still tasty and edible.
In the fall, leaves turn orange, pinkish, or red for a colorful fall landscape, and its form and its characteristic cherry bark provide winter interest.
They require full sunlight and moist, well-drained soil in the acidic to neutral pH range. They can grow in poor stony soils but prefer soils with some organic matter.
They will not tolerate wet soils but usually require some watering during the dry season.
Identifying Features of the Wild Cherry
Wild Cherry is a large tree with a thick trunk to 5 ft across, smooth purplish-brown bark, and prominent horizontal gray-brown lenticels. Bark becomes thick, dark blackish-brown, and shallowly grooved when mature.
Leaves are ovate, 2 ¾ – 5 ½” long, about half as wide, somewhat shiny green above, puberulent-downy below, with a serrated margin often with glandular teeth, and an acuminate or sometimes caudate tip.
Leaves have ¾ – 1 ½” long petioles with 2 – 5 small red glands near the leaf base.
Fragrant white flowers 1.5” across appear on ¾ – 2” long pedicels in 2 – 6-flowered corymbs in spring just before the leaves. They have five slightly notched white petals and about 30 yellowish stamens.
Fruits are small red to blackish drupes to ¾” in diameter (larger in cultivars) that may be somewhat bitter to sweet and contain a single stony pit.
Often Confused With: Wild Cherry is often confused with Cherry-Plum, which tends not to have lenticels, has flowers that are borne singly rather than in clusters, and has petals without any notches in its tips. Sometimes it is confused with Sour Cherry, which is a smaller tree with leaves with acute tips and glands between rather than on the ends of the teeth, flowers in sessile umbels rather than corymbs, and fruits that are never sweet.
Other Common Names: Sweet Cherry, Mazzard Cherry, Gean, Bird Cherry
Native Area: Throughout Europe and Asia, widely naturalized in North America
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 40 ft (20 to 105 ft) tall, 25 – 35 ft spread
Some Cultivars Available (from left to right):
- Bing Cherry Tree Prunus avium ‘Bing’ is the most common cultivar of sweet cherries prized for its large dark red, delicious fruits, often grown commercially. Drought-tolerant and adaptable to most soil types in zones 5 – 8. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Utah Giant Cherry Tree Prunus avium ‘Utah Giant’ is a good disease-resistant variety that produces abundant large dark red sweet cherries in mid-season. It is not self-pollinating and must be grown with another sweet cherry. – Image via Nature Hills
- Black Tartarian Cherry Tree Prunus avium ‘Black Tartarian’ is a semi-dwarf tree growing to 15 ft tall that is adaptable to various soil types and is drought tolerant. It produces abundant dark red cherries in the first year. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Rainier Cherry Tree Prunus avium ‘Rainier’ is a shorter tree growing to 15 ft tall with yellow fruits with a red blush. They are early heavy producers of sweet fruits. Cross-pollination is required for production. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Skeena Cherry Tree Prunus avium ‘Skeena’ has beautiful fragrant white flowers followed by lush deep red cherries in the fall that are resistant to cracking. It is self-fertile, so only one tree is required, hardy zones 5 – 9. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Stella Cherry Tree Prunus avium ‘Stella’ is a self-pollinating sweet cherry with dark red heart-shaped fruits that resist splitting in an upright semi-dwarf compact form with abundant white spring flowers and bright green leaves. – Image via Nature Hills
- Black Republican Cherry Tree Prunus avium ‘Black Republican’ is a popular tree as a pollinator for other sweet cherries due to its long bloom time that helps to produce bigger yields on all your cherry trees. It also produces its own small to medium dark red deliciously sweet cherries. – Image via Nature Hills
- Royal Ann Cherry Tree Prunus avium ‘Royal Ann’ produces fruits very similar in size and color to Rainier Cherry, but they are more firm and favored for commercial and home canning, including making maraschino cherries. It’s a semi-dwarf variety that thrives in most soil types. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Lambert Sweet Cherry Tree Prunus avium ‘Lambert’ produces large quantities of dark red fruit that is almost black, heart-shaped, firmer, and later in the season than most cherries. It is not self-fertilizing and will need a companion tree. – Image via Nature Hills
- Sweetheart Sweet Cherry Tree Prunus avium ‘Sweetheart’ is popular as a low-maintenance self-pollinating sweet cherry with pinkish-white spring flowers followed by delicious red sweet cherries with a hint of acid-tart. – Image via Nature Hills
- Chelan Cherry Tree Prunus avium ‘Chelan’ is a small or medium-sized tree growing 15 – 30 ft tall with white and pink flowers followed by deep red heart-shaped cherries similar in size and taste to Bing but fruits earlier and is more resistant to splitting. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Coral Champagne Cherry Tree Prunus avium ‘Coral Champagne’ is a small to medium-sized tree producing deep pink fruits in high yields. It is the most heat-tolerant of the sweet cherries and thrives in zones 6 – 9. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Van Cherry Tree Prunus avium ‘Van’ is a medium-sized tree that takes well to pruning to keep it smaller. It has pretty white flowers and makes a great pollinator for other cherries. It produces large red-black sweet-tart fruits. – Image via Nature Hills
- Brooks Sweet Cherry Tree Prunus avium ‘Brooks’ is another cherry that tolerates hot summers and is hardy in zones 8 – 9. It produces sweet white flowers and ruby red fruits in May or June. – Image via Nature Hills
3. Sour Cherry (Prunus cerasus)
Sour Cherry is a beautiful tree with lovely white blossoms and is hardier than sweet cherries. It performs best in cooler, humid climates.
It does best in full sunlight with moist but well-drained soil. It will tolerate partial shade, but fruit production may be reduced.
Mulch yearly each fall with compost or well-rotted manure.
Pruning after flowering to remove crossing branches will allow air and light to reach developing fruits, increasing productivity.
These small trees can be grown in pots or fan-trained against a wall to save space in smaller gardens.
They’re self-fertile, so only one is needed to produce large crops.
Fruits are smaller than sweet cherries, with a bitter, sour taste that is popular for use in pies, tarts, and jams.
This Eurasian native is widely introduced across North America, but it does not appear on any global invasive species databases at this time.
Identifying Features of the Sour Cherry
Sour Cherry is a small to medium-sized tree with a usually broadly rounded crown.
Leaves are ovate-elliptic to obovate, 2 – 3.5” long with acute tips, serrated or doubly serrated margins with wide teeth that are sometimes somewhat rounded, and mostly hairless surfaces.
Glands are located on the petiole near the leaf base, and there is often a gland often located in the depression (sinus) between the teeth.
Several flowers appear in sessile umbels on about 1” long pedicels. They have five white petals that may be slightly notched or not at all. There are about 30 stamens with white filaments and cream-colored anthers.
Fruits are rounded drupes about ¾“ across that are bright red and tart to bitter to taste.
Often Confused With: Sour Cherry is mostly confused with Wild Cherry, which has leaves with acuminate to caudate tips, serrated margins that often have glands at the tip of the teeth rather than between the teeth, flowers in corymbs rather than sessile umbels, and fruit that is usually much sweeter.
Other Common Names: Pea Cherry, Tart Cherry, Dwarf Cherry, Morello Cherry
Native Area: Throughout most of Europe and southwest Asia
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 12 – 20 ft (to 30 ft) tall, 15 – 20 ft spread
Some Cultivars Available:
- Montmorency Cherry Prunus cerasus ‘Montmorency’ is the most common cultivar of Sour Cherry, popular for its large, bright red sour cherries and its ability to self-pollinate so only one tree is needed. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees.
- Balaton™ Tart Cherry Tree Prunus cerasus ‘Balaton’ produces bright red sweet-tart cherries with lots of pigmentation for beautifully colored jams and preserves. In spring, it has pure white fragrant flowers that are partially self-pollinating, but you will get more fruits if you plant another cherry tree with it. – Image via Nature Hills
- North Star Cherry Prunus cerasus ‘North Star’ is a dwarf tree bred for the fast production of plump tart cherries and its cold hardiness. It’s also self-fertile, so only one tree is required. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Romeo and Juliet™ Cherry Prunus fruticosa x Prunus cerasus ‘Big Red’ PPAF is a cold-hardy hybrid dwarf tree that only grows 8 feet tall. Two are needed for cross-pollination, but they require little space and produce 25 lbs of cherries. Grows well in USDA zones 2 – 7. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- English Morello Cherry Tree Prunus cerasus ‘English Morello’ produces flowers later than most cherries and is self-fertile, producing abundant dark red-black sour cherries in mid-summer. Its long dark-green leaves turn yellow in fall, and its shiny brown-gray bark adds winter color. – Image via Nature Hills
- Romeo Dwarf Cherry Tree Prunus cerasus ‘Romeo’ is small enough to be grown in a container and has abundant white cherry blossoms in late spring followed by deep crimson juicy dark red berries that resist splitting. – Image via Nature Hills
4. Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
Black Cherry is a medium to large-sized tree with abundant racemes of fragrant small white flowers.
It produces small black fruits that are loved by wildlife.
It is an easy-to-grow tree that can be grown in full sun or partial shade but will flower and fruit more in the sun.
It grows best in moist, well-drained, acidic soils but tolerates most soil types if the summers are relatively cool and moist.
In areas with warm summers, apply a thick layer of mulch around the tree to keep the roots cool in summer.
It has a wide native range in North America from Canada south to Guatemala. It grows at sea level in Canada, while further south, it is found in mountainous areas.
This tree is known to be invasive in temperate Europe and should not be planted there; instead, choose one of your lovely native Prunus species.
Identifying Features of the Black Cherry
Black Cherry is a shrub or small tree without thorns and doesn’t sucker.
Leaves are 0.79 – 5.3” long, about half as wide, narrowly elliptic, oblong-elliptic, or obovate, sometimes lanceolate, or rarely ovate. Bases are cuneate to rounded. Tips are acute to acuminate, or sometimes obtuse, rounded, or emarginate.
Leaf margins are crenulate-serrated to serrated and often somewhat undulate. Teeth may be sharp or blunt, glandular, or callus-tipped.
Lower leaf surfaces are densely hairy along the midrib near the base but may be hairless, upper surfaces are hairless.
Leaves have a 0.1 – 1” hairless to densely hairy petiole with 1 – 6 glands near the leaf base.
Inflorescences are 18 – 55(-90)-flowered loose racemes, blooming after the leaves emerge.
Flowers are on 0.1 – 0.4” pedicels, with five white obovate to almost round petals.
Fruits are dark purple to black rounded drupes 0.2 – 0.4” (to 1”).
Often Confused With: Black Cherry is mostly confused with Chokecherry, a suckering shrub or tree with leaves that are usually a bit smaller and have serrations that are typically sharp-toothed and not glandular, flowers that are in dense racemes on shorter pedicels and fruits that are more variable in color. It is also often confused with the European Bird Cherry, which has bark that emits a foul, acrid smell, leaves with short-acuminate tips and finely serrated margins, and flowers in loose, often drooping racemes on longer ½” long pedicels.
Other Common Names: Wild Black Cherry, Rum Cherry, Mountain Black Cherry
Native Area: North and Central America in eastern North America in the Atlantic provinces of Canada, plus Minnesota south to Texas and all states east of that, plus Arizona, New Mexico, and throughout Mexico excluding the northern desert lowlands, south into Guatemala
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 80 ft tall, 30 – 50 ft spread
5. Cherry-Plum (Prunus cerasifera)
The Cherry-Plum is more of a plum than a cherry, but the differences between the two are minimal since both are from the same genus Prunus.
They produce high yields of small cherry-like plums that are tart-sweet and tasty.
It is best grown in full sun for fruit and flower production but will tolerate partial shade.
It is a tough shrub or small tree that is drought-tolerant, wind-resistant, and can be used as a windbreak or hedging.
It grows in most soil types as long as they are well-drained.
Not often sold commercially, but newer purple-leaved cultivars are gaining popularity.
IUCN lists this tree as Data Deficient, yet many online sources claim that it now only exists in cultivation and where it has escaped cultivation.
Identifying Features of the Cherry-Plum
Cherry-Plum is a small, sometimes thorny tree with a shrubby, spreading, rounded habit.
Unlike most cherry trees, it tends to have smooth bark without lenticels when young and becomes somewhat grooved as it ages.
Leaves are ovate, elliptic, or obovate, up to 2.5” long with crenate to serrated margins.
Flowers are mostly solitary, very fragrant, up to 1” across with five white or light pink mostly rounded petals without any notches or indents at their tips. They emerge in late winter or early spring, typically before the leaves emerge.
Fruit is a small orange, pinkish, reddish, or purplish drupe up to 1” in diameter that is edible tart-sweet.
Often Confused With: The Cherry-Plum is most often confused with the Domestic Pulm (Prunus domestica), which has longer leaves at 3 – 6” long, larger flowers 1 – 3” wide, and larger fruits up to 3” across. Sometimes it is confused with Wild Cherry, which has conspicuous lenticels in its bark, leaves with acuminate to caudate tips, and flowers in few-flowered corymbs rather than solitary.
Other Common Names: Myrobalan Pum
Native Area: Western Asia and the Caucasus, but now believed to only exist in cultivation or where it has escaped cultivation
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 30 ft tall, 15 – 25 ft spread
6. Weeping Higan Cherry (Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula’)
The Weeping Higan Cherry is a beautiful ornamental cherry tree with an elegant weeping form and prolific showy pink or almost white flowers.
Flowers appear in late winter or early spring for abundant early color. Leaves turn various shades of yellow in the fall. Small fruits persist into winter, providing winter interest and a food source for squirrels and other animals.
It prefers moist, well-drained average soils in full sun to partial shade. Once established, however, it can easily adapt to poorer soils, compaction, and dry soils.
Though it is often referred to as Prunus subhirtella var pendula, this weeping form is probably just an early cultivar (‘Pendula’) of the type species rather than a botanical variant. It is also sometimes called Cerasus spachiana, but Cerasus is a subgenus of Prunus. Finally, it is sometimes also called Prunus itosakara, which is a synonym of Prunus subhirtella.
Identifying Features of the Weeping Higan Cherry
Weeping Higan Cherry is a small to medium-sized tree with an irregular to somewhat rounded crown and branches that are strongly weeping and have thin twigs.
Leaves are oblong to ovate, 2 – 4” long, with acute to acuminate tips and serrated margins. They are glossy green and turn dull to vibrant yellow in the fall.
Flowers are light pink or almost white, very showy, 1” in diameter, and appear before the leaves.
Fruits are oval, less than ½” long, fleshy black drupes that are not showy.
Often Confused With: N/A
Other Common Names: Weeping Cherry
Native Area: Japan
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 40 ft tall, 15 – 35 ft spread
Some Cultivars Available:
- Pink Weeping Cherry Prunus subhirtella var. Pendula is the classic weeping cherry in a truly pink form with elegant weeping branches and rich green leaves that turn bright yellow in the fall. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- White Weeping Cherry Prunus subhirtella var. Pendula is also the same classic weeping cherry, with snow-white blossoms on elegantly weeping branches. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Weeping Extraordinaire™ Cherry Tree Prunus x ‘Extrazam’ has extra large double blooms of gorgeous pink flowers and grows to 20 ft tall with glossy green leaves in summer followed by rich burgundy fall color. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
7. Sargent Cherry (Prunus sargentii)
Sargent Cherry is known for its year-round beauty.
In the spring, abundant showy pink flowers emerge, followed by leaves with a purplish-bronze tint that turns a rich glossy dark green in the summer. Small drupes attract birds in early summer.
In the fall, the leaves turn vibrant orange and red for a spectacular show of fall color.
Finally, in winter, the shiny reddish-brown to almost purple bark provides winter interest to the landscape.
It requires full sun and moist, well-drained, acidic, sandy loam soils.
It is drought tolerant once established but is somewhat intolerant of high heat and humidity, so it will not grow well south of USDA zone 7.
It has good resistance to most of the common cherry pests.
Identifying Features of Sargent Cherry
Sargent Cherry has a dense, broadly rounded, or irregular crown.
It has reddish-brown to almost purple bark that is smooth and shiny with horizontal lenticels when young. As it matures, sometimes the bark peels and exfoliates in horizontal strips.
Leaves are obovate, elliptic to oblong, and up to 5” long with acuminate or short-acuminate tips. They emerge with a purplish-bronze tint in the spring and turn dark glossy green in summer before turning red or orange in the fall.
Flowers appear in 2 – 4-flowered sessile umbels before the leaves emerge. They have five showy pink petals with slightly to noticeably notched tips. Numerous stamens have white or pink filaments and cream-colored anthers.
Fruits are small glossy dark purple-black drupes up to ⅓” in diameter that are bitter to taste.
Often Confused With: Sargent Cherry is often confused with the Japanese Flowering Cherry, which has ovate to lanceolate leaves that are typically narrower with longer acuminate tips and flowers in clusters of 2 – 5 with conspicuously notched petals and stamens that are usually pink.
Other Common Names: North Japanese Hill Cherry
Native Area: Japan, Korea, Sakhalin Russia
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 30 ft (to 45 ft) tall, 20 – 30 ft spread
8. Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
Chokecherry is an easy-to-grow, low-maintenance shrub or small tree that often suckers.
It produces abundant, somewhat showy white flowers in spring, appearing after the leaves have emerged.
They also produce abundant small drupes that numerous birds and mammals love. Deer, elk, and rabbits browse the leaves and twigs, often heavily.
Like most cherries, it does best in full sun in moist, well-draining soils, but it will tolerate most soil types, including clay, loam, limestone-based, and sand, from mildly acidic to mildly alkaline.
Once established, it has very good drought tolerance.
It is often considered a pest because it is a host to the tent caterpillar and other pests that are a threat to other fruit trees.
It is not native to Alaska and is considered invasive there, so it does have invasive potential outside its native range.
Identifying Features of the Chokecherry
Chokecherry is a shrub or small tree that is not thorny but often suckers.
Leaves are obovate or elliptic to ovate or oblanceolate, 1 – 4 ⅓” long, with a cuneate to rounded or almost cordate base and acuminate, acute, or obtuse tip, on short to up to 1” long petioles with glands near the leaf base.
Leaf margins are fine to coarsely serrated, usually sharp-toothed, usually without glands but sometimes callus-tipped.
Lower leaf surfaces are usually hairy along the midrib and hairless on the upper surface.
Flowers appear in dense 18 – 64-flowered racemes on usually short hairless pedicels after the leaves emerge. Petals are white, obovate to almost rounded, and up to ¼” long. Flowers have conspicuous yellow centers, and the pale green ovary is often visible beneath the short style.
Fruits are red, purple, dark purple, or black, round drupes about ¼ – ½” wide.
Often Confused With: Chokecherry is often confused with European Bird Cherry, which has bark that emits a foul, acrid smell, and flowers in looser, often drooping racemes on longer pedicels about ½” long. It is also often confused with the closely related Black Cherry, which can grow larger, has larger leaves with less sharp teeth, looser racemes, and darker fruits.
Other Common Names: Bitter Cherry, Virginia Bird Cherry, Western Chokecherry, Eastern Chokecherry, Black Chokecherry
Native Area: North America throughout most of southern Canada and the northern and central USA states south in the mountains to New Mexico, Texas, and into northern Mexico
USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 30 ft tall, 15 – 20 ft spread
Some Cultivars Available:
- Canada Red Select Cherry Tree Prunus virginiana ‘Schubert Select’ is a lovely cold-hardy specimen tree with green leaves in spring that quickly turn reddish-purple that lasts all season. It has a straight trunk, small fragrant white flowers, and tiny tart red cherries loved by birds – Image via Nature Hills
- Canada Red Chokecherry Prunus virginiana ‘Canada Red’ has long racemes of small fragrant white flowers loved by butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds, plus green leaves that turn dark purple in early summer, and lots of small red tart cherries used in jellies and eaten by birds – Image via Nature Hills
9. Bitter Cherry (Prunus emarginata)
Bitter Cherry is a small to medium-sized tree with abundant lovely white flowers attracting butterflies and other pollinators.
It produces small red bitter cherries that squirrels, chipmunks, foxes, and bears love. Deer and elk routinely browse on the leaves and twigs.
It grows best in moist, well-drained loam or sandy soils in full sun but also grows in gravelly soil and in partial shade.
It is naturally found in thickets on rocky slopes, open forests, disturbed areas, and riparian zones next to creeks, rivers, and lakes.
Its attractive yellow leaves provide fall color, and its shiny reddish or silver-gray bark adds winter interest.
It can reproduce by seed and by suckering but is not known to be invasive.
Identifying Features of the Bitter Cherry
Bitter cherry is a small to medium-sized tree with shiny reddish to silver-gray bark with prominent horizontal lenticels.
Leaves are elliptic to oblong or obovate, 1 ¼ – 3” long on ¼ – ½” long petioles. They have finely serrated or finely crenate margins, usually acute tips, and rounded to obtuse bases.
Flowers appear in few-flowered corymbs and contain five white obovate petals, each about ¼” long and pubescent on the lower surface. There are approximately 20 stamens with white filaments and pale yellow anthers.
Fruits are small dark red or almost black fleshy drupes ⅜ – ½” long and taste very bitter.
Often Confused With: Bitter Cherry is often confused with Chokecherry, which has slightly larger leaves with more coarsely serrated margins and often on longer petioles, and the flowers are in more dense racemes with many more flowers. Sometimes it is confused with Wild Cherry, but that is a larger tree with leaves with acuminate tips and larger flowers in corymbs instead of racemes and fruits that are slightly larger and usually sweeter or only somewhat bitter.
Other Common Names: Wild Cherry, Quinine Cherry
Native Area: Western North America from British Columbia, Canada, south to Baja California, Mexico, east to Wyoming, south to New Mexico
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 50 ft tall, 15 – 25 ft spread
10. Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa)
Nanking Cherry is a delightful shrub cherry that deserves a little more attention.
It is one of the hardiest cherries there is, particularly of the sweet varieties. It tolerates both semi-arid climates and cold climates down to USDA zone 2.
I first discovered these when I lived in the cold Canadian prairies and was immediately in love.
It produces delicious edible tart-sweet cherries that are delicious fresh or made into jams and pies. My favorite homemade wine recipe uses Nanking Cherries.
Though they look more like cherries, they are actually botanically more like plums, though the difference between the two fruits is quite small.
It prefers full sun but will tolerate partial shade though yields will be reduced.
It grows best in well-drained, slightly acidic soils but will adapt to most soil types as long as they are not wet.
Identifying Features of the Nanking Cherry
Nanking Cherry is a shrub with an irregular crown, dark copper-tinted bark, and downy-pubescent twigs and buds.
Leaves are obovate to oblong-elliptic or ovate, 1.2 – 2.9” long, about half as wide, with obtuse to rounded bases, short acuminate to acute tips, and coarsely serrated or doubly serrated teeth that are sharp and occasionally have glands. There are glands on the petioles near the leaf base.
Lower leaf surfaces are tomentose, upper surfaces are pubescent, and often rugose.
Flowers appear in clusters before or with the leaves in the spring and are 0.6 – 0.8” in diameter with five white to pale pink petals that are obovate, elliptic, or almost rounded and up to ½” long.
Fruit is a rounded scarlet red drupe 0.3 – 0.6” in diameter, rarely to 1”, that may be slightly downy-puberulent.
Often Confused With: Nanking Cherry is mostly confused with Sour Cherry, which has slightly larger leaves with serrated or doubly serrated margins that are not as sharp as Nanking. Sour Cherry leaves are also mostly hairless, and its bright red fruits are usually a bit larger and always sourer to taste.
Other Common Names: Downy Cherry, Nanjing cherry, Korean cherry, Manchu Cherry, Shanghai Cherry, Ando Cherry, Mountain Cherry, Chinese Bush Cherry, Chinese Dwarf Cherry
Native Area: Western China, Tibet, Korea, Mongolia
USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 10 ft tall, 10 – 15 ft spread
11. St Lucie Cherry (Prunus mahaleb)
St Lucie Cherry is a small tree cultivated for a spice made of seeds inside the cherry pits. The spice has an aroma and taste like bitter almonds with hints of cherry.
As an ornamental tree, it has pretty white fragrant spring blossoms that appear after or around the same time as the leaves.
It has lovely orange and yellow autumn colors.
It thrives in well-drained, moist soil but can also grow in poor, stony, calcareous soils.
They only require moderate water and can resist drought and summer heat quite well.
It grows in full sun and partial shade and will even tolerate more shade though fruit and flower production would be reduced.
They are resistant to many pests and diseases affecting the genus.
Identifying Features of St Lucie Cherry
St Lucie Cherry is a small tree with gray-brown bark with conspicuous lenticels when young but becoming shallowly grooved when mature.
Leaves are ovate, ½ – 2” long, almost as wide as long, and clustered at the end of short shoots that are alternately arranged on the branches.
Leaves have acuminate tips, usually rounded bases but occasionally almost cordate, hairless green surfaces, and serrate or crenate margins that may be undulate.
Leaves are on a 0.2 – 0.8” long petiole that may or may not have glands near the leaf base.
Flowers are in 3 – 10-flowered short racemes and are fragrant, 0.3 – 0.8” in diameter, on a 0.3 – 0.6” long pedicel, and have five pure white petals.
Fruit is a small, thinly fleshy drupe about ⅓” wide that is red to dark purple or black when mature in mid-summer and tastes very bit bitter.
Often Confused With: St Lucie Cherry is often confused with Wild Cherry, which has longer leaves that are about half as wide as they are long and have long-acuminate to caudate tips, flowers in 2 – 6-flowered corymbs that appear before the leaves, and slightly larger and much sweeter fruits. Sometimes it is also confused with the highly invasive Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana), which has offensive rotten fish-scented white five-petaled flowers, slightly longer glossy green leaves, and produces a tiny, hard pome rather than a drupe.
Other Common Names: Perfumed Cherry
Native Area: Central and southern Europe, Iran, plus parts of central Asia
USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 30 ft tall, 20 – 30 ft spread
12. Tibetan Cherry (Prunus serrula)
The Tibetan Cherry is a unique tree with unusual bark and pretty white flowers.
Its bark is a glossy reddish-brown with horizontal lenticels like many cherries, put it peels in very thin papery strips that are so thin you can see light shining through it, providing an interesting feature, especially in winter.
In early spring, it produces dense clusters of small white flowers, followed by small deep red fruits in the fall that are bitter but loved by wildlife.
It grows best in rich, moist, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade.
It has a pleasant, symmetrically rounded crown that makes it popular as a landscape tree for parks and gardens.
Identifying Features of the Tibetan Cherry
Tibetan Cherry is a small to medium-sized tree with a symmetrical rounded crown and glossy reddish-brown, copper or mahogany brown bark with horizontal lenticels. The bark is thin and papery, exfoliating in horizontal or sometimes irregular strips.
Leaves are typically narrowly lanceolate to lanceolate, up to 4” long, with acuminate tips and serrated margins.
Small white flowers emerge in early spring as the leaves appear in 2 – 4-flowered umbels or sometimes singly. They are about ¾” in diameter and have five white petals.
Fruits are small red drupes ½” in diameter and are very bitter to taste.
Often Confused With: It is hard to mistake the Tibetan Cherry for other cherry trees with its unique papery exfoliating bark and narrower leaves than most cherries. Occasionally it is mistaken for Wild Cherry, but that one has the typical cherry bark that does not exfoliate, leaves that are wider and sometimes longer, larger flowers in 2 – 6-flowered corymbs, and sometimes larger fruits that are sweeter.
Other Common Names: Birchbark Cherry, Paperbark Cherry, Cellophane Bark Cherry, Redbark Cherry
Native Area: Western China, Tibet
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 30 ft tall, 20 – 30 ft spread
13. Yoshino Cherry (Prunus x yedoensis)
The Yoshino Cherry is a famous ornamental landscape tree for its abundant pinkish-white cherry blossoms that appear in early spring with a fragrant scent of almond.
It also provides year-round interest with its dark green leaves in summer that turn yellow to bronze or reddish in the fall.
The fall of the leaves reveals its shiny reddish cherry bark with horizontal lenticels for some winter interest in the landscape.
It grows best in moist, moderately rich, and well-drained soils in full sun.
Yoshino Cherry is a hybrid tree produced by a cross between Prunus speciosa and Prunus pendula f. ascendens.
Identifying Features of the Yoshino Cherry
Yoshino Cherry is a medium to large-sized tree with a spreading, broadly rounded open crown.
The bark is shiny reddish-gray with horizontal lenticels but becomes duller with age.
Leaves are mostly elliptic or sometimes ovate with mostly acuminate tips and cuneate, rounded, or obtuse bases. Margins are serrated and have short-stalked glands.
Petioles have large glands often located right at the leaf base.
Fragrant white to pinkish-white flowers appear in 3 – 6-flowered racemes before or with the leaves in early spring.
Fruits are small black drupes ½” in diameter that are very bitter but loved by birds.
Often Confused With: Yoshino Cherry is often confused with Japanese Cherry when not in bloom, but they can be differentiated by their petiole glands that are not touching the leaf base most of the time in the Japanese Flowering Cherry but touch most of the time in the Yoshino. When in flower, they can be differentiated by Yoshino flowers being in racemes compared to Japanese Flowering Cherry, which is in clusters with pedicels all arising from the same point.
Other Common Names: Potomac Cherry, Tokyo Cherry, Japanese Flowering Cherry
Native Area: N/A
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 50 ft tall, 25 – 40 ft spread
Some Cultivars Available:
- Weeping Yoshino Cherry Tree Prunus x yedoensis ‘Pendula’ is a small tree that grows 15 – 20 ft tall and has the classic pink-white blooms of the parent strain but in a graceful weeping form. White blossoms contrast nicely with the dark bark, followed by rich green leaves that turn a lovely golden-yellow color in the fall. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
- Akebono Yoshino Flowering Cherry Prunus x yedoensis ‘Akebono’ has a pleasant symmetrical crown and produces abundant mildly fragrant semi-double pink flowers that age to white. – Image via Nature Hills
14. European Birdcherry (Prunus padus)
European Bird Cherry has pretty, fragrant white flowers that emerge in early spring in fluffy racemes after the leaves have emerged.
They produce abundant small black bitter fruits that are loved by birds everywhere. In its native habitat, it provides necessary shelter and food for native birds and squirrels.
In some Northern European cultures, this tree is used in spring festivals to symbolize the birth of spring since it blooms and leafs out so early in spring.
It is an easy-to-grow tree that requires little maintenance and will grow in most conditions except for waterlogged soil.
Identifying Features of the European Birdcherry
European Birdcherry is a tall shrub or small tree with smooth reddish-brown bark with horizontal lenticels that sometimes exfoliate in horizontal strips. The bark emits a foul, acrid smell, and as it matures, it becomes rough and grayish-red to gray.
Leaves are dull dark green, oblong-obovate, 2 – 4” long, with short-acuminate tips, cuneate bases, and finely and sharply serrated margins.
Flowers appear in loose, often drooping racemes about 3 – 6” long. Flowers are on about ½” long pedicels and have white elliptic petals about ⅓” long.
Fruits are dark, almost black, ¼ – ⅓” in diameter, and very bitter to taste.
Often Confused With: European Birdcherry is mostly confused with Chokecherry, which has leaves with more variable bases, tips, and margins and are a brighter green, flowers that are in more dense racemes on shorter pedicels, and more variably colored, larger fruits that are not as bitter.
Other Common Names: Bird Cherry, Hackberry, Hagberry, Mayday Tree
Native Area: Northern Europe, northern and central Asia
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 6
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 50 ft tall, 20 – 30 ft spread
15. Carolina Cherry Laurel (Prunus caroliniana)
Carolina Laurel Cherry gets its name from its evergreen laurel-like leaves.
The leaves have glands on their lower surfaces that, when crushed, release a fresh maraschino cherry scent.
It produces abundant fragrant small white flowers in dense racemes in late winter or early spring that are attractive to butterflies and bees.
It can be grown in full sun or partial shade and grows best in moist, well-drained soils.
It tolerates heavy pruning and makes a great hedge plant, foundation plant for growing around the house or patio, or used in small groups or mass plantings.
It is also easy to transplant, drought-tolerant once established, and moderately salt tolerant.
Even though it can become weedy, it is not on any invasive plant databases worldwide. In North America, it is recommended as a substitute for the highly invasive Privet (Ligustrum chinesis) and the invasive English Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus).
Identifying Features of the Carolina Laurel Cherry
Carolina Laurel Cherry is a shrub or small tree with dull grayish bark with light brown horizontal lenticels.
It has lustrous glossy green evergreen leaves that are narrowly elliptic, elliptic, or oblanceolate, 2 – 4” long, and 2.5 to 3 times longer than they are wide. Leaf bases are cuneate to obtuse, and tips are usually acute, short-acuminate, or rarely somewhat obtuse.
Leaf margins are entire, sometimes undulate or finely serrated, and have no glands except on the petiole near the leaf base.
Flowers appear in 12 – 30-flowered short racemes. They are white with somewhat round to elliptic petals that are much smaller than other cherry flower petals.
Fruits are small (less than ½”) ovoid leathery black drupes.
Often Confused With: Carolina Cherry Laurel is mostly confused with the similar English Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), which also has evergreen laurel-like leaves and racemes of small flowers. The English Cherry Laurel differs in having much longer leaves (4 – 9” long) that are always finely serrated and smell like almonds rather than maraschino cherries when crushed, and its flowers and fruits are also somewhat larger.
Other Common Names: Carolina Laurelcherry, Cherry Laurel, Carolina Cherry
Native Area: Endemic to southeastern USA from North Carolina south to Florida and west to central Texas
USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 10
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 30 ft tall, 15 – 25 ft spread
16. Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila)
Sand Cherries are a bit unique in the genus for being low-growing shrubs that never look tree-like.
Early spring brings abundant nectar-rich white flowers that attract lots of pollinating insects.
Summer brings small cherries on the upward-facing branches that birds love. They have a rich, acidic flavor and can also be eaten fresh or cooked into jams or pies.
Leaves turn orange-red for fall color.
Though naturally, they will grow in sand, as the name implies, they are best grown in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun to encourage strong growth.
Avoid planting in the shade, which could encourage pests and diseases due to poor air circulation.
It is drought-tolerant once established.
Identifying Features of the Sand Cherry
Sand Cherry is a low-growing widely branched decumbent or prostrate shrub (does not grow upright branches).
Leaves are narrow to broadly oblanceolate, or sometimes oblong, 1.6 – 4” long, with obtuse or acute tips and cuneate to acute based. Margins are finely serrated and glandular. Surfaces are hairless but often glaucous below.
Flowers appear in clusters of 2 – 4 flowers on 0.15 – 0.5” pedicels. Their sepals are serrated and glandular, and they have five white elliptic to round-obovate petals about ¼” long and many yellow stamens.
Fruits are nearly black, almost rounded, 0.3 – 0.6” wide, and are edible but acidic or sometimes bitter.
Often Confused With: Sand Cherry is often confused with Sesquehana Sandcherry (Prunus susquehanae), which is very similar and used to be considered a subspecies, but it has more ascending branches and shorter leaves (1.2 – 2.75” long) that are silvery glaucous on the lower surface.
Other Common Names: Eastern Sand Cherry, Sandcherry, Great Lakes Sandcherry
Native Area: East and central North America from Saskatchewan, east to Newfoundland in Canada and south to Tennessee and Arkansas, west to Utah and Montana in the USA
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 2 – 8 ft (to 12 ft) tall, 2 – 10 ft spread
Some Cultivars Available:
- Purpleleaf Sand Cherry Prunus x cistena is a hybrid cross between Prunus pumila and Prunus cerasifera producing a beautiful shrub with purple leaves, gorgeous pinkish-white flowers, and small dark purple cherries loved by birds. – Image via Nature Hills
- First Editions® Jade Parade™ Sand Cherry Prunus pumila ‘UCONNPP002’ is a small shrub to 3 ft tall that produces prolific small white blossoms in early spring that attract loads of butterflies and birds later when in fruit. – Image via Nature Hills
Growing Cherry Trees in Your Garden
Growing cherry trees in your garden is a great way to get year-round color for aesthetic appeal. If you are growing a fruit-producing strain, you get the added benefit of food production with a beautiful aesthetic.
Cherry trees are relatively easy to grow, but to ensure success, be sure to do some research first.
First, always check your USDA Planting Zone, and be sure to choose a tree adapted to your climate.
Most cherry trees grow best in temperate climates with relatively high moisture, though some, like the Nanking Cherry, for example, can grow in cold and dry climates as well as it can moist and warmer climates.
A couple of newer cultivars have emerged that are designed to withstand warmer climates in USDA zones 8 and 9. Those will produce better in those climates and be less prone to leaf scorch in the summer heat than other cherries.
Next, compare your tree’s soil, light, and moisture requirements to your yard. Check out How to Pick A Tree For Your Yard for more information on choosing the right tree for the right spot.
Most cherry trees require moist, well-drained soil that has some organic matter. Some varieties will do better in dry or poor soils than others, so read up on the species or cultivar.
As far as I know, only Prunus takesimensis will tolerate wet soils, but it is a hard tree to find. So if you are looking for an ornamental tree that tolerates wet soil, try a maple, dogwood, or ash instead.
When grown in full sun, all cherry trees will produce the most flowers and fruits. While some species and varieties will tolerate partial shade, this will likely hinder fruit and flower production.
Cherries are susceptible to many pests and diseases, including leaf spot, powdery mildew, root rot, fireblight, aphids, scale, tent caterpillars, borers, and Japanese beetles. Growing in partial or full shade tends to encourage disease in cherries.
Particularly when choosing ornamentals, try to find a tree native to your area. Not only will it enhance local biodiversity and wildlife values, but you also avoid the risk of introducing a possible invasive tree into your environment.
Cheerful Cherry Trees
The oldest cherry tree in the world is likely the Jindai-Zakura in Hokuto City, Japan, estimated to be between 1800 – 2000 years old. It is said that it was planted by Japan’s 12th emperor, Yamato Takeru. This is extremely old for a cherry.
Most cherry trees do not live very long, often only 30 years or so. Black Cherry is an exception, having an average lifespan of about 100 years but able to live to 250 years.
The flowers of most cherry trees can be eaten. They are pickled in Japan and used in baking and in teas.
Most cherry pits are toxic and should not be eaten, though the inner seed of St Lucie Cherry is used as a spice.
Cherry trees are extremely popular as ornamental trees for their beautiful cheerful spring blossoms and as fruit-producing trees grown worldwide where conditions allow it.
The fruits are delicious and eaten fresh or made into jams, preserves, tarts, pies, and even wine. Nanking Cherry and Sour Cherry make the best wine, while the sweet varieties work well as a mead (honey wine) flavoring.
Cherry wood is popular for use in furniture, cabinetry, and veneers.
Cherry bark has a long traditional history of use for coughs and colds, where it has sedative and expectorant effects. It is also used for indigestion, gut problems, tuberculosis, bronchitis, and whooping cough. Cherry bark is an excellent remedy, but if you choose to gather bark from the wild, be sure to follow the rules of ethical wildcrafting.
With their abundant spring flowers, cherry trees are beneficial for all pollinating insects, including bees, butterflies, moths, and flies. They bloom at a time when little else is, providing these crucial pollinators with an early food source.
They also host numerous native and introduced caterpillars of butterflies and moths worldwide.
The fruits are loved by wildlife of all kinds, including squirrels, chipmunks, birds, foxes, bears, and more.
Deer, elk, and rabbits all routinely feed on the leaves and twigs.
The trees provide habitat and shelter for birds, arboreal mammals, and numerous insect species.
Now that you have learned so much more about the amazing cherry tree and its cheerful blossoms, you can start to identify the trees around you and maybe plant some in your yard for you and the wildlife to enjoy!
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Lyrae grew up in the forests of BC, Canada, where she got a BSc. in Environmental Sciences.
Her whole life, she has loved studying plants, from the tiniest flowers to the most massive trees.
She is currently researching native plants of North America and spends her time traveling, hiking, documenting, and writing.
When not researching, she is homeschooling her brilliant autistic son, who travels with her and benefits from a unique hands-on education about the environment around him.