Prunus avium

This lovely tree is unique in combining a glorious display of blossom with high value as useful timber. It is native as far north as the Scottish border, but only common as a wild tree amid the beech-woods of the south-eastern chalk downs. Many landowners have planted it in mixed woodlands on their private estates, more often for the beauty of its flowers than for any cash return from its wood. It is one of several ancestors of our cultivated orchard cherries, the others being smaller cherries found in south-east Europe.

Wild cherry can often be picked out by its peculiar bark which is purplish brown in colour, and smooth, with a metallic lustre. It carries well defined lenticeis or breathing pores, which are seen

Two Branches Grafted

as raised corky bands in horizontal lines across the trunk. The bark sometimes peels away in horizontal strips, and if a trunk or branch is wounded a curious gum, clear yellowish-green in colour, oozes out to cover the broken tissues. The bark of old trees is deeply and broadly ridged vertically.

The winter buds are alternately set and oval, with well-defined bud scales, and have a distinct red-brown colour. Cherry leaves are carried on long stalks and are elliptical in outline; they have a serrated edge and taper to a long point. In the autumn they change from mid-green to fiery shades of orange, crimson and purple and at that time a tall cherry stands out from surrounding trees like a glowing torch.

figure 6s

Winter twig of wild cherry (life size); the long shoots at the tip will extend the branch; only the short shoots or 'spurs' lower down bear flowers and fruit Lefc buds with well-defined scales (X5), figure 69

Cherry flowers are borne in dusters, each on a single stalk; usually they open in April, just as the leaves expand. They spring from short shoots, with basal bud scales (life size).

figure 69

Cherry flowers are borne in dusters, each on a single stalk; usually they open in April, just as the leaves expand. They spring from short shoots, with basal bud scales (life size).

Outline Soil Duster Flower

Cherry flowers are borne in dusters - a feature that distinguishes the cherry group from the nearly-related plums. Each group holds about four flowers, and they always arise on short shoots along established branches, never on the long shoots that extend the crown.

Each separate flower has a long stalk, five green sepals, five white petals, and a host of yellow stamens. The green pistil at the heart of the flower has a single style and a single seed chamber. There are nectaries at the base of the petals to attract the bees that carry pollen from flower to flower. In most years cherry blossom opens in late April, just after the leaves have expanded and are turning from their early reddish brown to their summer green, so providing a harmonious colour contrast, A late cold spring delays the opening of the leaves but not that of the flowers, which then appear, like a glistening snowdrift, over a framework of bare blanches.

Wild cherries ripen quickly, changing from green through red to black between April and June. Each flower produces a single long-stalked fruit, which has a tough black outer skin, a thin layer of sweet yellowish pulp that is quite good to eat, and a large hard black stone - the true seed - at its centre.

The birds quickly strip the trees and spread the seeds, either by dropping them or swallowing the cherries whole. Seeds that have passed through a bird's gut are believed to germinate in the following spring; otherwise the cherry stone must lie dormant on the forest floor for a whole year before it will sprout. Cherry seedlings have two fleshy round seed-leaves that are followed by normal foliage. Planting stocks of wild cherry are always raised from seed, but cultivated kinds are increased by grafting.

Most cherry wood is used for furniture making. Some is employed in fine carving, and the waste branchwood makes a first-rate firewood, which burns with the fragrance of the cherry blossom. Large logs are sliced into decorative veneers. Cherry wood is hard, strong and easy to work. It has a beautiful shade of warm brown, tinged with gold and green, and an intricate, attractive figure.

The wild cherry is also called, particularly in Scotland, the'gean' - pronounced with a hard 'g'; this name is derived from an old Italian name, guina. for the cultivated cherry tree, it can grow very tall, up to 30m. and become quite stout, up to 4m round. It is used as a stock for the many sorts of cultivated cherries, which are always grafted, and for the beautiful ornamental cherries that decorate roadsides and gardens.

figure 70 ileh)

Cross section through a single cherry flower, showing refkxed green sepals, white petals, numerous stamens and the central pistil, with a single style above arid one ovule within (XI}).

FIGURE 71

Newly ^germinated cherry seedling, with two round, fleshy seed-leaves and opposite early leaves: later leaves are set alternately (Xi).

Sakura Flower Cross Section Petals

FIGURE 71

Expanded leaves and fruits of Wild cherry, ripening in August*(Xf).

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