Our Sweet Cherry tree, scientifically known as Prunus avium, is located at the edge of Bayne Park along North Balph Avenue near the flag pole. Look for a tree with multiple narrow trunks.

The species name avium refers to birds, which is apropos given birds propensity to feast upon the sweet cherries it can produce.

In the Spring fragrant white flowers with five petals appear singly or in clusters just as foliage is beginning to emerge, as shown in the image above by Ryan Hodnett.

The small oval shaped glands found on the petiole near the base of the leaf are interesting both in form and function. These paired-glands, known as extrafloral nectaries, exude a special attractant which beckons beneficial insects to protect the tree by eating pests. Would you have ever imagined that a tree could essentially summon a team of bodyguards?

Ants enticed by the extrafloral nectaries, climb into a Sweet Cherry tree and dine upon caterpillars before the caterpillars defoliate the tree. But that’s not the entire story…there is endless drama unfolding in the canopy of trees. Are you prepared to learn about how ants farm aphids?

If the amount of sweet nectar provided by the Sweet Cherry tree doesn’t satisfy the ants, they begin to farm aphids. See it with your own eyes by watching this BBC video which shows ants protecting the aphids from ladybird beetles, and even moving aphids to advantageous locations as if they were a flock of sheep. Why would the ants do this? All for a sweet reward! The aphid taps into a leaf and when stroked by the ant’s antennae it exudes a droplet of sugary liquid, which the ant quickly consumes.

When I looked up into the canopy of Bayne Park’s Sweet Cherry tree, I couldn’t see any cherries and wondered why our tree was not fruiting. Later I learned that Sweet Cherry trees produce both male and female sex organs in the same five-petaled blossom as shown in the botanical illustration above, but the tree is not typically self-fruitful. To produce cherries it needs a different but compatible cultivar within fifty feet for cross-pollination. Our tree isn’t producing cherries because it is lacking a pollenizer partner. Sadly, the nearby Kanzan Cherry tree is not compatible as it is an ornamental flowering cherry tree.

The brightly colored blue orchard bee females visit and pollinate the blossoms of Sweet Cherry trees as shown in the illustration above by Steve Buchanan from Bee Basics: An Introduction to our Native Bees, available as a PDF download. Honeybees and butterflies also pollinate the flowers of the Sweet Cherry tree. Pollinators may carry pollen from the flowers of other nearby trees or from the same tree. Interestingly, the Sweet Cherry tree can tell the difference!

When a grain of pollen reaches a stigma on a flower of the Sweet Cherry tree, a delicate tube grows down to the ovary in search of an egg. As this occurs the tree discerns the genetic makeup of the pollen, and if it matches its own the tube is blocked and dries up. This helps to ensure the success of the species by promoting genetic diversity.

Birds consume the fruit, shown above in the botanical illustration, and randomly deposit the seeds along with their own natural fertilizer. The seeds can lie dormant for up to five years, waiting for the just right conditions to sprout.

The dull dark-green leaves of the Sweet Cherry are serrated with slightly rounded teeth. The leaves appear alternately along the branches which arc outward from the tree.

The leaves begin to turn red, orange, or pink anytime after August once the storage spaces beneath the bark and in the roots reach capacity. Lacking space to store any additional sugar that would be produced, the tree essentially begins shutting up shop for the year. This may seem surprising especially when there are still potentially many warm days of sunshine on the horizon, but it makes sense. You wouldn’t go to the grocery store to buy perishables when your refrigerator was already full to the brim.

The satin-like chestnut/grey colored bark easily peels, has lines of prominent horizontal lenticels, and is occasionally broken by large cracks. The bark becomes more silvery with age.

The reddish-brown twigs are smooth, slender, and marked with numerous round minute lenticels. The twigs are often covered with a thin film-like matte grey translucent coating which can easily be rubbed away.

Cherry wood is a rich reddish-brown with a very straight grain. Due to its attractiveness it is highly valued for furniture building, decorative joinery, paneling, cabinetry, veneer, musical instruments, too handles, and fire wood. The wood can also be used in culinary smoking.

The cherries on a fruiting tree are mainly consumed fresh by wildlife and humans. They may also be frozen, canned, or processed for wine.

Note: Confirming proper identification is always your individual responsibility prior to consuming any wild food. A good place to start is by cross referencing multiple reliable sources. Never ingest anything unless you are personally 100% certain it is safe for consumption.

Book Recommendations:

Orchard: Growing and Cooking Fruit From Your Garden by Jane McMorland Hunter and Chris Kelly shares information, inspiration, and delicious recipes. Enjoy exploring the rich traditions of fruit growing with charming histories of your favorite fruits, including cherries!

The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season by Molly Fader takes you into the heart of cherry season. Hope knows of the Orchard House, but only through the stories her late mother shared. She travels to the northern Michigan family estate with her ten-year-old daughter Tink, and a secret. Hope’s Aunt Peg allows them to stay, under the condition that they will help with the cherry harvest. As Hope works in the orchard, will her new life start to blossom? Will family secrets interfere, and will this newly connected family find the strength to overcome the secrets together?

Pie in the Sky by Lois Ehlert is a clever picture book in which children can explore seek-and-find collages composed with real cherry tree branches along with vibrant acrylics, pastels, and handmade paper. Father and child observe a lively bustle of nature activity at their backyard cherry tree. This book reflects the fruit’s importance to wildlife, and with simple recipe instructions for a cherry pie integrated to the story, humans can get in on the fun too!

Learn more about all the Trees of Bayne Park and explore our Interactive Bayne Park Tree Map to see the locations, photographs, and names of over a dozen different species of trees. Be sure to also visit our Treesources page to learn about local trees, caring for trees, and more.

This post written by Linda, 8/25/20