PRUNUS AVIUM, commonly called WILD CHERRY, SWEET CHERRY, or GEAN,
is a species of cherry , a flowering plant in the rose family Rosaceae
. It is native to
Maghreb , and western
British Isles south to
Tunisia , north to the
Trondheimsfjord region in
Norway and east to the
Caucasus and northern
Iran , with a small isolated population in the western
Himalaya . The
species is widely cultivated in other regions and has become
naturalized in North America and Australia.
Prunus avium, has a diploid set of sixteen chromosomes (2n = 16).
All parts of the plant except for the ripe fruit are slightly toxic,
containing cyanogenic glycosides .
* 1 Nomenclature
* 1.1 Mazzard
* 2 Description and ecology
* 3 Cultivation and uses
* 3.2 Ornamental
* 3.3 Timber
* 3.4 Other uses
* 4 Contribution to other species
* 5 Cultural history
* 6 References
* 7 External links
The early history of its classification is somewhat confused. In the
first edition of
Species Plantarum (1753), Linnaeus treated it as only
Prunus cerasus var. avium, citing
Gaspard Bauhin 's Pinax
theatri botanici (1596) as a synonym; his description, Cerasus
racemosa hortensis ("cherry with racemes, of gardens") shows it was
described from a cultivated plant. Linnaeus then changed from a
variety to a species
Prunus avium in the second edition of his Flora
Suecica in 1755.
Sweet cherry was known historically as GEAN or MAZZARD (also
'massard'), until recently, both were largely obsolete names in modern
The name "wild cherry" is also commonly applied to other species of
Prunus growing in their native habitats, particularly to the North
Prunus serotina .
Prunus avium means "bird cherry" in the
Latin language , but in
English "bird cherry" refers to
Prunus padus .
More recently 'Mazzard' has been used to refer to a selected
self-fertile cultivar that comes true from seed, and which is used as
a seedling rootstock for fruiting cultivars. This term is still used
particularly for the varieties of P. avium grown in North Devon and
cultivated there, particularly in the orchards at
DESCRIPTION AND ECOLOGY
Red glands (extrafloral nectaries ) on the petiole .
Prunus avium is a deciduous tree growing to 15–32 m (49–105 ft)
tall, with a trunk up to 1.5 m (4.9 ft) in diameter. Young trees show
strong apical dominance with a straight trunk and symmetrical conical
crown, becoming rounded to irregular on old trees. The bark is smooth
purplish-brown with prominent horizontal grey-brown lenticels on young
trees, becoming thick dark blackish-brown and fissured on old trees.
The leaves are alternate, simple ovoid-acute, 7–14 cm (2.8–5.5 in)
long and 4–7 cm (1.6–2.8 in) broad, glabrous matt or sub-shiny
green above, variably finely downy beneath, with a serrated margin and
an acuminate tip, with a green or reddish petiole 2–3.5 cm
(0.79–1.38 in) long bearing two to five small red glands. The tip of
each serrated edge of the leaves also bear small red glands. In
autumn, the leaves turn orange, pink or red before falling. The
flowers are produced in early spring at the same time as the new
leaves, borne in corymbs of two to six together, each flower pendent
on a 2–5 cm (0.79–1.97 in) peduncle, 2.5–3.5 cm (0.98–1.38 in)
in diameter, with five pure white petals, yellowish stamens, and a
superior ovary; they are hermaphroditic , and pollinated by bees . The
ovary contains two ovules , only one of which becomes the seed. The
fruit is a drupe 1–2 cm (0.39–0.79 in) in diameter (larger in some
cultivated selections), bright red to dark purple when mature in
midsummer, edible, variably sweet to somewhat astringent and bitter to
eat fresh. Each fruit contains a single hard-shelled stone 8–12 mm
long, 7–10 mm wide and 6–8 mm thick, grooved along the flattest
edge; the seed (kernel) inside the stone is 6–8 mm long. Prunus
avium in spring
The fruit are readily eaten by numerous kinds of birds and mammals ,
which digest the fruit flesh and disperse the seeds in their
droppings. Some rodents , and a few birds (notably the hawfinch ),
also crack open the stones to eat the kernel inside. All parts of the
plant except for the ripe fruit are slightly toxic, containing
cyanogenic glycosides . See also: List of
Lepidoptera that feed on
The leaves provide food for some animals, including
as the case-bearer moth
Coleophora anatipennella .
The tree exudes a gum from wounds in the bark, by which it seals the
wounds to exclude insects and fungal infections.
CULTIVATION AND USES
Cherry Pair of fruit growing from the same stem
Some eighteenth- and nineteenth-century botanical authors assumed a
Asia origin for the species based on the writings of Pliny ;
however, archaeological finds of seeds from prehistoric Europe
contradict this view. Wild cherries have been an item of human food
for several thousands of years. The stones have been found in deposits
Bronze Age settlements throughout Europe, including in Britain. In
one dated example, wild cherry macrofossils were found in a core
sample from the detritus beneath a dwelling at an Early and Middle
Bronze Age pile-dwelling site on and in the shore of a former lake at
Desenzano del Garda
Desenzano del Garda or
Lonato , near the southern shore of Lake Garda
, Italy. The date is estimated at Early
Bronze Age IA, carbon dated
there to 2077 BCE plus or minus 10 years. The natural forest was
largely cleared at that time.
By 800 BCE, cherries were being actively cultivated in
Asia Minor ,
and soon after in
As the main ancestor of the cultivated cherry, the sweet cherry is
one of the two cherry species which supply most of the world's
commercial cultivars of edible cherry (the other is the sour cherry
Prunus cerasus, mainly used for cooking; a few other species have had
a very small input). Various cherry cultivars are now grown worldwide
wherever the climate is suitable; the number of cultivars is now very
large. The species has also escaped from cultivation and become
naturalised in some temperate regions, including southwestern
New Zealand , and the northeast and northwest of the United
It is often cultivated as a flowering tree. Because of the size of
the tree, it is often used in parkland, and less often as a street or
garden tree. The double-flowered form, 'Plena', is commonly found,
rather than the wild single-flowered forms.
Two interspecific hybrids, P. x schmittii (P. avium x P. canescens )
and P. x fontenesiana (P. avium x P. mahaleb ) are also grown as
The hard, reddish-brown wood (cherry wood) is valued as a hardwood
for woodturning , and making cabinets and musical instruments .
Cherry wood is also used for smoking foods, particularly meats, in
North America, as it lends a distinct and pleasant flavor to the
The gum from bark wounds is aromatic and can be chewed as a
substitute for chewing gum .
Medicine can be prepared from the stalks (peduncles ) of the drupes
that is astringent , antitussive , and diuretic .
A green dye can also be prepared from the plant.
Wild cherry is used extensively in
Europe for the afforestation of
agricultural land and it is also valued for wildlife and amenity
plantings. Many European countries have gene conservation and/or
breeding programmes for wild cherry.
CONTRIBUTION TO OTHER SPECIES
Prunus avium is thought to be one of the parent species of Prunus
cerasus (sour cherry), by way of ancient crosses between it and Prunus
fruticosa (dwarf cherry) in the areas where the two species overlap.
All three species can breed with one another.
Prunus cerasus is now a
species in its own right, having developed beyond a hybrid and
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Pliny distinguishes between Prunus, the plum fruit, and Cerasus, the
cherry fruit. Already in Pliny quite a number of cultivars are cited,
some possibly species or varieties, Aproniana, Lutatia, Caeciliana,
and so on. Pliny grades them by flavour, including dulcis ("sweet")
and acer ("sharp"). and goes so far as to say that before the Roman
consul Lucius Licinius
Lucullus defeated Mithridates in 74 BC, Cerasia
… non fuere in Italia, "There were no cherry trees in Italy".
According to him,
Lucullus brought them in from Pontus and in the 120
years since that time they had spread across
Europe to Britain.
Although cultivated/domesticated varieties of
Prunus avium (sweet
cherry) didn’t exist in Britain or much of Europe, the tree in its
wild state is native to most of Europe, including Britain. Evidence of
consumption of the wild fruits has been found as far back as the
Bronze Age at a
County Offaly , in
Seeds of a number of cherry species have however been found in Bronze
Age and Roman archaeological sites throughout Europe. The reference to
"sweet" and "sour" supports the modern view that "sweet" was Prunus
avium; there are no other candidates among the cherries found. In 1882
Alphonse de Candolle pointed out that seeds of
Prunus avium were found
Terramare culture of north
Italy (1500–1100 BC) and over the
layers of the Swiss pile dwellings. Of Pliny's statement he says (p.
Since this error is perpetuated by its incessant repetition in
classical schools, it must once more be said that cherry trees (at
least the bird cherry) existed in
Italy before Lucullus, and that the
famous gourmet did not need to go far to seek the species with the
sour or bitter fruit.
De Candolle suggests that what
Lucullus brought back was a particular
Prunus avium from the Caucasus. The origin of cultivars of
P. avium is still an open question. Modern cultivated cherries differ
from wild ones in having larger fruit, 2–3 cm diameter. The trees
are often grown on dwarfing rootstocks to keep them smaller for easier
Folkard (1892) similarly identifies Lucullus's cherry as a cultivated
variety. He states that it was planted in Britain a century after its
introduction into Italy, but "disappeared during the Saxon period". He
notes that in the fifteenth century "Cherries on the ryse" (i.e. on
the twigs) was one of the street cries of London, but conjectures that
these were the fruit of "the native wild Cherry, or Gean-tree". The
cultivated variety was reintroduced into Britain by the fruiterer of
Henry VIII, who brought it from Flanders and planted a cherry orchard
* ^ "The
Plant List: A Working List of All
Retrieved 27 January 2014.
* ^ A B C "USDA GRIN taxonomy".
* ^ British Trees Online
* ^ A B C Den Virtuella Floran:
Prunus avium (in Swedish; with map)
* ^ Atlas of Living Australia. "
Prunus avium : Sweet
Atlas of Living Australia". ala.org.au.
* ^ Calflora taxon report, University of California, PRUNUS AVIUM
(L.) L. sweet cherry
* ^ Flora of North America,
Prunus avium (Linnaeus) Linnaeus, 1755.
Sweet cherry, cerisier des oiseaux
* ^ Tavaud, M.; Zanetto, A.; David, J.L.; Laigret, F.; Dirlewanger,
E. (2004). Genetic relationships between diploid and allotetraploid
cherry species (
Prunus xgondouinii and
Heredity. 93(6): 631–638.
* ^ Linnaeus, C. (1753).
Species Plantarum 1: 474. Online
* ^ Linnaeus, C. (1755). Flora Suecica, ed. 2: 165.
* ^ Flora of NW Europe:
* ^ A B C D E Huxley, A., ed. (1992). New RHS Dictionary of
Gardening. Macmillan ISBN 0-333-47494-5 .
* ^ A B C Plants for a Future:
* ^ "Jim Conrad\'s Newsletter.
Cherry leaf glands".
Backyardnature.net. 12 June 2005. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
* ^ "Sweet cherries". pollinator.ca.
* ^ Rushforth, K. (1999). Trees of Britain and Europe. Collins ISBN
* ^ Mitchell, A. F. (1974). Field Guide to the Trees of Britain and
Northern Europe. Collins ISBN 0-00-212035-6 .
* ^ Flora of NW Europe:
* ^ A B Vedel, H., & Lange, J. (1960). Trees and Bushes in
Hedgerow. Metheun & Co. Ltd., London.
* ^ Marinis, R. C. de, Rapi, M., Ravazzi, C., Arpenti, E., Deaddis,
M., & Perego, R. (2005). Lavagnone (Desenzano del Garda): new
excavations and palaeoecology of a
Bronze Age pile dwelling site in
northern Italy. In: DellaCasa, P. Volume IV
* ^ Russell (2003), Wild cherry -
Prunus avium: Technical
guidelines for genetic conservation and use (PDF), European Forest
Genetic Resources Programme , p. 6
* ^ Stocks, Christopher (2009). "Britain’s forgotten fruits".
Flora. 1: 1–200.
* ^ Natural History Book XV Section XII.
* ^ A B Pliny. Natural History Book XV Section XXX.
* ^ N.H. Book XV Sections XXXI–II.
* ^ Milner, Edward (2011). "Trees of Britain and Ireland". Flora.
* ^ Candolle, A. de (1882). Origine des plantes cultivées. Geneva.
* ^ Panda, S., Martin, J. P., & Aquinagalde, I. (2003). Chloroplast
DNA study in sweet cherry cultivars (
Prunus avium L.) using PCR-RFLP
method. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 50 (5): 489–495.
* ^ Folkard, Richard (1892) "
Plant Lore, Legends and Lyrics", 2nd
edn., Sampson, Low, Marston border:solid #aaa 1px">
* Trees portal
* Data related to
Prunus avium at Wikispecies
* Media related to
Prunus avium at Wikimedia Commons
Prunus avium - distribution map, genetic conservation units and
related resources. European Forest Genetic Resources Programme
SWEET (BIGAROON, MAZZARD)
* Emperor Francis
* Royal Ann (Napoleon)
SOUR (AMARELLE, MORELLO)
Griotte de Kleparow
* North Star
* Wd : Q165137
* BioLib: 39516
* EoL : 301092
* FNA : 242341424
* GBIF : 3020791
* GRIN : 29844
* iNaturalist : 61964
* IPNI : 160672-3
* ITIS : 24770
* NCBI : 42229
Plant List : rjp-383
* PLANTS : PRAV
Tropicos : 27801088