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Orchard Trees - Cherries

( Originally Published 1927 )

Small-fruited members of the genus prunus, wild and cultivated, are grouped under the popular name, cherries, by common consent. The pie cherry of New-England gar-dens is prunus cerasus, Linn. It often runs wild from gar-dens, forming roadside thickets, with small sour red fruits, as nearly worthless as at home in the wilds of Europe and Asia. This tree has, through cultivation, given rise to two groups of sour cherries cultivated in America. The early, light-red varieties, with uncolored juice, of which the Early Richmond is a familiar type, and the late, dark-red varieties, with colored juice, of which the English Morello is the type.

The sweet cherry of Europe (P. Avium, Linn.) has given us our cultivated sweet cherries, whose fruit is more or less heart-shaped.

Japan celebrates each spring the festival of cherry blossom time, a great national fête, when the gardens burst suddenly into the marvelous bloom of Sakura, the cherry tree, symbol of happiness, in which people of all classes delight. The native species (P. pseudo-Cerasus), has been cultivated by Japanese artist-gardeners in the one direction of beauty for centuries. Not in flowers alone, but in leaf, in branching habit, and even in bark, beauty has been the ideal toward which patience and skill have striven success-fully. "Spring is the season of the eye," says the Japanese poet. Of all their national flower holidays, cherry blossom time, in the third month, is the climax.

The Wild Cherry

Prunus Pennsylvanica, Linn.

The wild red, bird, or pin cherry grows in rocky woods, forming thickets and valuable nurse trees to hardwoods, from Newfoundland to Georgia, and west to the Rocky Mountains. The birds enjoy the ruddy little fruits and hold high carnival in June among the shining leaves. Many an ugly ravine is clothed with verdure and whitened with nectar-laden flowers by this comparatively worthless, short-lived tree; and in many burnt-over districts, the bird. sown pits strike root, and the young trees render a distinct service to forestry by this young growth, which is gone by the time the pines and hardwoods it has nursed require the ground for their spreading roots.

The Wild Black Cherry

P. serotina, Ehrh.

The wild black cherry or rum cherry (see illustration, page 166), is the substantial lumber tree of the genus, whose ponderous trunk furnishes cherry wood, vying with mahogany and rosewood in the esteem of the cabinet-maker, who uses cherry for veneer oftener than for solid furniture.

The drug trade depends upon this tree for a tonic de-rived from its bark, roots, and fruit. Cherry brandies, cordials, and cherry bounce, that good old-fashioned home- brewed beverage, are made from the heavy-clustered fruits that hang until late summer, turning black and losing their astringency when dead ripe.

From Ontario to Dakota, and south to Florida and Texas, this tree is found, reaching its best estate in moist, rich soil, but climbing mountain canyons at elevations of from five to seven thousand feet. A worthy shade and park tree, the black cherry is charmingly unconventional, carrying its mass of drooping foliage with the grace of a willow, its satiny brown bark curling at the edges of irregular plates like that of the cherry birch.

The Choke Cherry P. Virginiana, Linn.

The choke cherry is a miniature tree no higher than a thrifty lilac bush, from the Eastern states to the Mississippi, but between Nebraska and northern Texas it reaches thirty-five feet in height. The trunk is always short, often crooked or leaning, and never exceeds one foot in diameter. Its shiny bark, long racemed flowers and fruit, and the pungent odor of its leaves and bark might lead one to confuse it with a black cherry sapling. But there is a marked difference between the two species. The choke cherry's odor is not only pungent, but rank and disagreeable besides. The leaf of the choke cherry is a wide and abruptly pointed oval. The fruit until dead ripe is red or yellow, and so puckery, harsh, and bitter that children, who eat the black cherries eagerly, cannot be persuaded to taste choke cherries a second time.

Birds are not so fastidious; they often strip the trees before the berries darken. It is probably by these unconscious agents of seed distribution that choke-cherry pits are scattered. From the Arctic Circle to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains this worthless little choke cherry is found in all wooded regions.

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