A deciduous tree, with strong, rather acrid-smelling bark, from 30 to over 50 ft high, of open, rather gaunt habit when young; the branchlets usually covered at first with a fine down, sometimes quite glabrous. Leaves oval or obovate, 3 to 5 in. long, 11⁄2 to 21⁄2 in. wide, pointed at the end, mostly rounded or slightly heart-shaped at the base, finely toothed, dull dark green above, glabrous beneath or with tufts of down in the vein-axils beneath; stalk glabrous, with two or more glands, 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long. Flowers fragrant, white, 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 in. wide, borne on drooping or spreading racemes 3 to 6 in. long, and from 3⁄4 to 11⁄4 in. through, which terminate short leafy shoots; calyx with five shallow, rounded, often glandular lobes. Fruits round, 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 in. in diameter, black, harsh and bitter to the taste.
The bird cherry is widely spread over the northern part of the Old World, extending in one or other of its forms from the British Isles to Japan. It is a very hardy tree, and not particular as to soil. Whilst the typical form may give place in gardens to such varieties as ‘Plena’ and ‘Watereri’, it is itself very charming when planted in thin woodland. The named varieties are best propagated by budding on seedlings of the type in July. The tree has little economic value, although the timber, when available, is valued by cabinet-makers, and the fruit (according to Loudon) has been used to flavour brandy and home-made wines. It flowers in May.
cv. ‘Albertii’. – A very free-flowering variety, with short, crowded racemes. Received by Kew in 1902 from the Vilmorin collection; the name suggests that it was originally introduced to the St Petersburg Botanic Garden by Albert Regel.
cv. ‘Aucubifolia’. – Leaves spotted after the manner of Aucuba japonica; of little value.
cv. ‘Aurea’. – Young leaves yellowish. This form is of no particular value in regard to its leaves, which soon turn green, but it has good robust foliage and its flowers are of larger size than normal.
cv. ‘Colorata’. – Stems dark purple; young leaves coppery purple, later dark green, purplish beneath. Flowers pale pink.
var. commutata Dipp. P. grayana Hort., not Maxim. – A wild variety from Manchuria, remarkable for flowering about three weeks in advance of any other bird cherry, being usually in bloom by the middle of April. Its flowers are fully 1⁄2 in. across. Sometimes cut by late frosts.
cv. ‘Pendula’. – Branches pendulous.
cv. ‘Plena’. – Flowers large and double, longer-lasting than in the normal form.
cv. ‘Stricta’. – Racemes quite erect.
cv. ‘Watereri’ (‘Grandiflora’). – Racemes up to 8 in. long; leaves with conspicuous tufts of down in the axils of the veins. Raised by the Knap Hill Nursery, before 1914. A.G.M. 1930.
P. × laucheana Bolle ex Lauche P. padus var. rotundifolia Hort. ex Koehne – Leaves almost as wide as long. Almost certainly a hybrid between P. padus and P. virginiana.