A deciduous bush or small rounded tree, suckering at the root and often making thickets in its wild state, but 10 to 20 ft high under cultivation. Leaves oval or ovate, abruptly short-pointed, 11⁄2 to 3 in. long, half to two-thirds as wide, glabrous on both surfaces, rather lustrous above, the margins set with double gland-tipped teeth; stalk 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long, usually glanded. Flowers pure white, 3⁄4 to 1 in. across, produced in clusters, each flower on a stalk 3⁄4 in. long. Fruits red to blackish, roundish and depressed, with soft, juicy, acid flesh.
P. cerasus is a cultivated species to which belong many orchard varieties (see further below). It is naturalised over much of Europe (including Britain), and the Near East, but is not known anywhere as a truly wild plant. It is certainly related to P. avium, but distinct enough to rank as a separate species. In its naturalised state it produces suckers from the roots and never makes a tall tree as P. avium does. The leaves of P. cerasus are nearly or entirely without down; and the fruit is not sweet nor bitter, but acid. A further distinction is that the calyx-tube is campanulate, whereas in P. avium it is urn-shaped, i.e., constricted at the mouth.
The orchard varieties of P. cerasus have been grouped as follows:
var. austera L. – Fruits dark coloured and with a dark juice. Trees usually of rather pendulous habit. These are the Morello cherries.
var. caproniana L. P. acida Ehrh.; P. caproniana (L.) Gaudin – Fruits lighter red than in the Morellos, with a colourless juice. Trees usually erect branched, round-headed. Here belong the Amarelle cherries, of which the Kentish Red cherries are a local race.
var. frutescens Neilr. P. acida sens. K. Koch, not Ehrh.; Cerasus collina Lejeune & Cortois; Prunus cerasus var. humilis Bean (?) – Of shrubby, suckering habit. Fruits dark red. Various orchard varieties cultivated in the Soviet Union belong here; also the old variety known as ’ Ostheim’. It is said to be naturalised in parts of Central Europe.
var. marasca (Host) Viv. Cerasus marasca Host – A vigorous tree whose fruits are employed in the manufacture of the famous Maraschino liqueur in Dalmatia, especially around the town of Zadar (Zara).
The cherries deriving from P. cerasus are self-fertile and will therefore fruit even if only a single specimen is grown. The Morello cherry fruits well on a north wall.
The following varieties are distinguished by their flowers, habit, or foliage
cv. ‘Dumosa’. – When budded or grafted on low standards, this makes a dwarf, round-headed tree, profuse in flower, and of very slow growth. A charming tree for a small lawn, where it may stand for many years and cause no inconvenience by overgowing. It is figured in Garden, Vol. 78, p. 201.
It is possible that this variety is really the same as ‘Globosa’ (‘Umbraculifera’), which was put into commerce by Späth in the 1880s.
cv. ‘Persiciflora’. – Flowers double, pink. Known since the 17th century.
cv. ‘Rhexii’. – Flowers pure white, 11⁄2 in. across, very double, with stalks almost twice as long as in the type, but not so pendulous as in P. avium ‘Plena’. It is scarcely so fine as that variety, and is subject to brown rot.
cv. ‘Salicifolia’. – Leaves long and narrow, 4 to 6 in. long, about one-fourth as wide, coarsely and doubly toothed. A distinct variety with single flowers.
cv. ‘Semiplena’. – Flowers semi-double, with normal carpels and occasionally producing fruit. The P. cerasus var. plena of Linnaeus is probably this variety and not ‘Rhexii’.
cv. ‘Semperflorens’. All Saints’ Cherry. – This remarkable variety has been cultivated in gardens since the 18th century, but its origin is not known. It is usually grafted on standards of cherry, and thus makes a small, very elegant round-headed tree, with pendent, slender branches and curiously clustered twigs, which in the leafless state render it easily distinguishable. The most interesting and attractive thing about it is its method of flowering. It bears a small crop of blossom in April when in ordinary leafless condition, and in ordinary clusters; it then goes out of flower until the new shoots are a few inches long (early June), when it commences to blossom again, and continues to do so until September. These second flowers, however, are produced singly from the leaf-axils, and from the ends of the young leaf-bearing shoots. This variety in reality produces during the growing season the flowers which ought normally to be (and are in other cherries) produced simultaneously the following spring. By the time the later flowers are open the earlier ones have developed fruit, which is acid, but pleasantly flavoured. An interesting and attractive lawn tree.
P. × gondouinii (Poiteau & Turpin) Rehd. Cerasus gondouinii Poiteau & Turpin; P. × effusa (Host) Schneid. – P. × gondouinii appears to be the correct name for hybrids between P. cerasus and P. avium. Here belong the Duke cherries. An ornamental cherry known as ‘Schnee’, cultivated in Germany and Holland, is considered by Dr Boom to be a hybrid of this parentage (Dendroflora, No. 3 (1966), p. 14; figured in op. cit., No. 1, p. 18).