Cherries, Plums and Allies

European Wild Cherry Almond European Bird Cherry Japanese Cherry

What are they?

These woody members of the rose family (Rosaceae) are all members of the genus Prunus, which is a large and diverse group of trees and shrubs. This group contains a number of important fruit-bearing species as well as many species introduced from abroad as ornamentals and amenity plants.

Where are they found?

This diverse group contains species that are common, native hedgerow plants as well as a number of introduced species. Some of the latter may be found as garden escapes or throw-outs along roadsides and rough ground, while others are commonly planted as amenity and street trees in towns and cities.

Identification

This is a relatively large group with quite a few species to consider, while confusion may be possible with other members of the rose family, so attention to detail is important and more than one visit to the plant may be necesarry to confirm details of various features such as flowers and fruits. Much detail can be noted in the flowers - length of flower stalk, whether the sepals are recurved and whether the flowers are carried singly, in clusters or united onto common stems in racemes. Fruits are often important, especially details of the stone (flattened in plums, globular in cherries, for example) and the overall size. Leaves are of lesser importance in most species, but details of the marginal teeth can sometimes be useful. It should particularly be noted that the various forms of plum (Damson, Cultivated Plum, Greengage) may often be unidentifiable unless fruits are present and even then they are so variable in their various features that considering them all to be simply forms of the Common Plum (Prunus domestica) is often the best bet.



Blackthorn      Prunus spinosus

Native. Very common and widespread as a hedging plant and as a dominant, suckering shrub in scrub habitats. Flowers April to early May, carried singly or in pairs on short stalks (3-4mm) and appearing on bare stems before the leaves open. Sepals typically flattened against the petals. A spreading bush to five metres tall with spiny stems when growing naturally, but lower and more compact when pruned as a hedge. Winter stems dark purple-brown, often with a greysh cast; lightly covered with short hairs. Fruits 9-18mm across, dark bluish-black with a pale bloom or pruinescence, rounded and with a rounded stone.

Blackthorn Blackthorn Blackthorn Blackthorn
Habit
Flowers
Leaves
Leaves
Blackthorn Blackthorn Blackthorn
Fruits
Young twig
Winter stem and bud


Cherry Plum      Prunus cerasifera

Introduced from SE Europe. Common and widespread as a hedging plant and less commonly as a small tree of woodland edge. Flowers February to early April, carried singly or two to three together on medium-length stalks (5-15mm) and opening with the first leaves. Sepals typically recurved. A bush when pruned as a hedge but plants will naturally form a small tree, to around eight metres in height. Winter stems green and hairless, although often turning reddish-purple when exposed to sun. Fruits 20-30mm across, yellow or dark red, rounded and with a rounded stone, without a pale bloom. Plants are often biannual fruiters, only producing fruit in any quantity every other year.

Cherry Plum Cherry Plum Cherry Plum Cherry Plum
Habit
Flowers
Reflexed sepals
Leaves
Cherry Plum Cherry Plum Cherry Plum
Fruit
Winter stem and bud
Bark


Cherry Plum cultivars      Prunus cerasifera

Introduced, of garden origin. Common and widespread as a small tree where planted for amenity and utility in parks, cemeteries and along town streets. Flowers February to early April, carried singly or two to three together on medium-length stalks and opening with the first leaves. Ornamental trees are typically of various pink-flowered forms, the usual cultivars being the very pale pink 'Pissardii' or the deeper pink 'Nigra'. Both these varieties of purple leaves and bear very few, dark reddish-purple fruits.

Cherry Plum Cherry Plum Cherry Plum Cherry Plum
Habit
Flowers of 'Pissardii'
Flowers of 'Nigra'
Leaves
Cherry Plum Cherry Plum
Winter stem and buds
Bark


Cultivated Plum      Prunus domestica ssp. domestica

Probably originally introduced from Central Asia or Asia Minor but also cultivated locally to create a wide range of forms. Common and widespread as a hedgerow plant or relic of old gardens and suckering freely. Flowers March to May, carried two to three together and opening with the first leaves. Petals typically broader and larger than those of Cherry Plum. A very variable bushy, suckering, sometimes slightly spiny tree, seemingly having originated as a hybrid between Blackthorn and Cherry Plum with the various forms showing a mix of features of these two species. Winter stems green or reddish, typically downy on the youngest twigs. Fruits yellow, red or blue-purple, large (may be up to 80mm long), oval and with a clearly flattened stone, with a pale, whitish bloom.

Common Plum Common Plum Common Plum Common Plum
Flower
Leaf
Fruit
Flattened stone
Common Plum Common Plum Common Plum
Winter stem and bud
Young bark
Old bark


Damson      Prunus domestica ssp. insititia

Occasional as a suckering, often spiny, hedgerow plant or relic of cultivation. Flowers March to May, carried two to three together and opening with the first leaves. Petals typically broader and larger than those of Cherry Plum. A form that is towards the Blackthorn end of the spectrum, with rather downy twigs. Fruits dark blue-purple, small (20-30mm), round and with a flattened stone and with a pale, whitish bloom.

Damson Damson Damson Damson
Leaf
Fruit
Fruit
Flattened stone
Damson
Young bark


Greengage      Prunus domestica ssp. italica

Occasional as a suckering hedgerow tree or relic of cultivation. Flowers March to May, carried two to three together and opening with the first leaves. Petals typically broader and larger than those of Cherry Plum. A form that is towards the Cherry Plum end of the spectrum, with scarcely downy twigs. Fruits green or dull yellowish, medium-sized (25-40mm) (sometimes larger in modern varieties), round and with a flattened stone.

Greengage Greengage Greengage Greengage
Flattened stone
Flowers
Leaves
Fruit
Greengage Greengage Greengage
Winter stem and bud
Winter stem and bud
Young bark


European Wild Cherry      Prunus avium

Native but also widely planted. Common and widespread in copses and woods and also planted as an amenity tree. Flowers April to early May, carried two to six together on long stalks (20-50mm). In woodland, can form a large tree, to 30 metres in height. Fruits are small cherries with a rounded stone, turning bright red then blackish. Leaves coarsely and irregularly toothed on the margin. The bark of mature trees has well-defined, horizontal ridges. Note that double-flowered forms are popular for street plantings.

European Wild Cherry European Wild Cherry European Wild Cherry European Wild Cherry
Flowers
Flowers
Double-flowered form
Leaf (left) with leaf
of Sour Cherry (right)
European Wild Cherry European Wild Cherry European Wild Cherry European Wild Cherry
Leaf margin
Fruits
Winter buds
Bark


Sour Cherry      Prunus cerasus

(Dwarf Cherry). Rare as an ancient introduction and surviving as a relic of cultivation in hedgelines or woodland edge and rough ground, usually as a suckering shrub or small tree to six metres in height. Flowers April to early May, carried two to six together on long stalks (20-50mm). Fruits are small cherries with a rounded stone, turning bright red (dark red in some cultivated forms such as Morello cherries). Leaves regularly toothed on the margin, the teeth with small, reddish glands at the tips.

Sour Cherry Sour Cherry Sour Cherry Sour Cherry
Flowers
Leaves
Leaf (right) with leaf
of Wild Cherry (left)
Leaf margin
Sour Cherry Sour Cherry Sour Cherry Sour Cherry
Fruits
Winter buds
Young bark
Older bark


St Lucie Cherry      Prunus mahaleb

Introduced from mainland Europe. In the regional floras, this species is represented by a single tree, found near Ipswich. Flowers April to May, carried three to ten together on short stalks, the stalks coming from a short side shoot and unlike any other cherry in the region. Typically a small to medium tree, to ten metres in height. Fruits small, 8-10mm across, dark red when ripe. The leaves are broader than those of other cherries with rounded bases and rather resemble the leaves of pear trees.

St Lucie Cherry St Lucie Cherry St Lucie Cherry St Lucie Cherry
Flowers
Flower stalks joined at base
Leaves
Leaves
St Lucie Cherry St Lucie Cherry St Lucie Cherry
Fruits
Winter buds
Bark


Winter Cherry      Prunus ssubhirtella

Introduced from eastern Asia. Unlikely to spread naturally but occasionally found where planted as a roadside tree and commonly planted as an amenity and street tree in urban areas (especially in its semi-double forms). Flowers November to early April, the flowers opening whenever mild weather permits but often browned by sudden cold snaps. Most trees are of the cultivated variety 'Autumnalis' which has semi-double flowers, while 'Autumnalis Rosea' has deeper pink flowers.

Winter Cherry Winter Cherry Winter Cherry
Habit
Flowers
Flowers
Winter Cherry Winter Cherry
Winter twig and bud
Bark


Japanese Cherry      Prunus serrulata

Introduced from eastern Asia. Unlikely to spread naturally but occasionally found where planted as a roadside tree and commonly planted as an amenity and street tree in urban areas (especially in its double-flowered forms). Flowers late April to early May. A broad mix of small to medium-sized trees, most of which originate in cultivation from a number of Asian cherry species; many have double flowers like pompons. Leaves relatively large and coarsely-toothed, often bronze or purple-coloured when young.

Japanese Cherry Japanese Cherry Japanese Cherry
Habit
Flowers of 'Kanzan'
Flowers of 'Ukon'
Japanese Cherry Japanese Cherry Japanese Cherry
Winter buds
Bark
Bark


Tibetan Cherry      Prunus serrula

Introduced from China. Uncommon, but occasionally found in old churchyards, parks or as a planted street tree. Flowers April to May, relatively small, carried singly or two to three together on long stalks (10-12mm). The bark is remarkable for its highly polished look and rich mahogany colour.

Tibetan Cherry Tibetan Cherry Tibetan Cherry Tibetan Cherry
Flower
Flowers
Leaves
Leaves
Tibetan Cherry Tibetan Cherry
Young bark
Older bark


Almond      Prunus dulcis

Introduced from southern Europe. Uncommon, but occasionally found in old churchyards, parks or as a planted street tree. Flowers Late February to April, relatively large, rich pink, carried on short stalks and appearing well before the leaves. Young stems are richly coloured green and reddish. Leaves long and tapered, highly susceptible to the fungal disease Peach Leaf Curl (Taphrina deformans) which causes reddening and deforming of the leaves. Fruits green and densely furry.

Almond Almond Almond Almond
Habit
Flowers
Leaves
Leaf
Almond Almond Almond Almond
Fruit
Winter twig
Young bark
Old bark


Apricot      Prunus armeniaca

Introduced from southern Europe. Occasionally planted and surviving as a relic of cultivation; currently recorded from Cambridgeshire but could occur elsewhere. Flowers March to April, relatively large, rich pink. Rather similar to the much more common Almond, but with much broader leaves. Fruits are the familiar apricots, but are rarely produced in the UK due to an unfavourable climate for ripening.

Apricot
Leaves
Apricot Apricot Apricot Apricot
Winter twig
Winter twig
Young bark
Old bark


European Bird Cherry      Prunus padus

Native but also often planted. A common species of damp woodland towards the north and west of our region. Less common but sometimes planted further south and east. Flowers May, carried in long, showy spikes or racemes. Typically a small to medium-sized, shrubby tree, to 15 metres in height, though often much less. Fruits small, 6-8mm across, shiny black when ripe. Leaves with distinctly impressed veins.

European Bird Cherry European Bird Cherry European Bird Cherry European Bird Cherry
Flowers
Flowers
Flower
Leaf
European Bird Cherry European Bird Cherry European Bird Cherry European Bird Cherry
Fruits
Winter bud
Young wood
Bark


American Black Cherry      Prunus serotina

(Rum Cherry.) Introduced from North America. A rare, shrubby tree occasionally found were presumably bird-sown on rough ground and heaths. Flowers May to June, carried in long, showy spikes or racemes. Typically a small to medium-sized, shrubby tree, to 20 metres in height, though often much less. Fruits small, 8-10mm across, shiny black when ripe. Leaves shiny, without impressed veins, rather tough and almost appearing evergreen (though they are deciduous).

American Black Cherry American Black Cherry American Black Cherry
Flowers
Flowers
Leaf
American Black Cherry American Black Cherry American Black Cherry American Black Cherry
Fruits
Winter buds
Young wood
Bark