Cherries are related to plums, apricots, peaches and almonds. There are a vast number of cherry tree varieties. The small, round fruit of these trees vary from dark, burgundy red to creamy pale yellow.
Cherry trees are divided into two main groups. Both groups originated in Asia. These two groups are divided by the taste of the cherries they produce.
The first are referred to as sweet or dessert cherries. They are descendents of the species P. avium. The second are referred to as sour or culinary cherries. They are the offspring of the species P. cerasus. There is a third group called duke cherries that fall somewhere in the middle. Sweet cherries are further divided into black and white cherries varieties.
Sweet Cherry Varieties
Sweet cherries are grown primarily for eating fresh. The most common is the Bing cherry. Bing cherries are dark in color, firm and juicy. They are quite large and very sweet. Bing cherries are considered the standard cherry against which other cherries are compared.
Chelan cherries ripen earlier than Bing. They are a firm and heart-shaped fruit. They are similar to Bing cherries in appearance. They are dark red and very sweet tasting.
Tieton cherries are extremely large in size. They are firm with a mildly sweet flavor. They ripen early and produce beautiful, shiny fruit.
Rainer cherries are yellow with a bright red hue. They are easily recognizable with distinctive characteristics. They have an exceptionally sweet, bright yellow flesh with a delicate flavor. They ripen shortly after Bing.
Lapins are a large, dark red cherry. They are sturdy and crack-resistant. They ripen late in the season, well after Bing.
Skeena is another late ripening cherry. The fruit is large, dark, and almost black in color. The flesh is very dense. They are gaining popularity and continue to produce sweet cherries until late summer.
Sweetheart cherries are large, heart shaped and bright red. They have a firm flesh and are mildly sweet. They store and ship very well. They ripen in late-season.
Sour Cherry Varieties
Sour cherries are to tart to eat. They are commonly used in preserves and pie filling. Montmorency cherries are a sour variety that is the standard for sour cherries. They ripen mid-summer. They produce a tart, clear juice.
Meteor ripens after Montmorency. They produce medium sized, clear juiced, firm fruit.
The Northstar variety of cherries ripen after the Montmorency. They produce a medium sized, dark juiced cherry with burgundy red fruit. They are hardy and will develop a deep color when left to fully ripen on the tree.
Schattenmorelle ripen after Montmorency. They produce large, dark juiced fruit.
English Morello ripen shortly after Montmorency. They produce medium sized, dark, reddish black fruit. They are excellent for pies.
Duke cherries are a hybridization of both sweet and sour cherries. They fall somewhere in between sweet and sour cherries in fruit characteristics. The most common are Krassa Severa, Royal Duke and May Duke. Sweet or sour cherries are better choices for cooking and eating fresh.
Factors That Affect Cherry Cultivation
Rain cracking is produced by rain water or dew being absorbed through the skin of the fruit. When the fruit becomes saturated it will crack the skin. This becomes a greater problem if the rain occurs right before the harvest. Cracking will allow brown rot to proliferate within the fruit.
Birds love cherries. Dark, sweet cherries are preferred over white and sour cherries. In a small orchard birds can consume almost the entire yield of the fruit.
Tree netting is somewhat useful, as well as other bird deterrents. No single tactic has been proven effective, but even in small orchards it is possible to prevent the consumption of at least some of the fruit.
Deer eat the young growth and this can result in the tree being stunted. There are commercial and homemade repellents available. It is best to discourage feeding early.
Aphids, fruit flies, mites, borers and maggots are some of the insects that will infest cherry trees. These should be controlled by commercially available methods.
Diseases that affect cherry trees are brown rot fungus, mildew, fungal and bacterial cankers, crown and root rot, x-disease and various viral infections.
Photo by Matt G. Borowick, Creative Commons Attribution License