Know your Cherries

Know your Cherries - Introduction

  • The cherry is the fruit of many plants of the genus Prunus
  • It is a fleshy stone fruit. 
  • The cherry fruits of commerce are usually obtained from a limited number of species, including especially cultivars of the wild cherry, Prunus avium.
  • The name 'cherry', often as the compound term 'cherry tree', may also be applied to many other members of the genus Prunus, or to all members of the genus as a collective term.  The fruits of many of these are not cherries, and have other common names, including plum, apricot, peach, and others. 
  • The name 'cherry' is also frequently used in reference to cherry blossom.
  • True cherry fruits are borne by members of the sub-genus Cerasus which is distinguished by having the flowers in small corymbs of several together (not singly, nor in racemes), and by having a smooth fruit with only a weak groove or none along one side. 
  • The subgenus is native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, with two species in America, three in Europe, and the remainder in Asia.

Know your Cherries - Taxonomy

  • The majority of eating cherries are derived from either Prunus avium (see right), the wild cherry  which is sometimes called the sweet cherry, or from Prunus cerasus, the sour cherry.
  • The cultivated forms are of the species wild cherry (P. avium) to which most cherry cultivars belong, and the sour cherry (P. cerasus), which is used mainly for cooking. 
  • Both species originate in Europe and western Asia; they do not cross-pollinate. 
  • Some other species, although having edible fruit, are not grown extensively for consumption, except in northern regions where the two main species will not grow. 

Know your Cherries - Origins

  • The native range of the wild cherry extends through most of Europe, and the fruit has been consumed through its range since prehistoric times. 
  • A cultivated cherry is recorded as having been brought to Rome by Lucius Licinius Lucullus from north-eastern Anatolia, also known as the Pontus region, in 72 BC.
  • A form of cherry was introduced into England at Teynham, near Sittingbourne in Kent by order of Henry VIII, who had tasted them in Flanders.
  • The English word cherry, French cerise, Spanish cereza all come from the Classical Greek (κέρασος) through the Latin cerasum, thus the ancient Roman place name Cerasus, from which the cherry was first exported to Europe.

Know your Cherries - Cultivation

  • Cherries have a very short growing season and can grow in most temperate latitudes
  • The peak season for cherries is in the summer. 
  • In Australia they are usually at their peak around Christmas time, in southern Europe in June, in North America in June, in south British Columbia (Canada) in July-mid August and in the UK in mid July. 
  • In many parts of North America they are among the first tree fruits to ripen.
  • Irrigation, spraying, labour and their propensity to damage from rain and hail make cherries relatively expensive. 
  • Nonetheless, there is high demand for the fruit.

Know your Cherries - Distribution

  • Annual world production (as of 2007) of cultivated cherry fruit is about two million tonnes. 
  • Around 40% of world production originates in Europe and around 13% in the United States.