cherry tree photoA cherry (originally "cherise" reinterpreted as a plural, from the Old French word, in turn from Latin cerasum) is both a tree and its fleshy fruit, a type known as a drupe with a single hard stone enclosing the seed. The cherry belongs to the family Rosaceae, genus Prunus (along with almonds, peaches, plums, apricots and bird cherries). The cherries belong in subgenus Cerasus, distinguished from the rest of the genus by having the flowers in small corymbs of several together (not singly, nor in racemes), and in the fruit being smooth and not having a groove along one side. The subgenus is native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, with two species in North America, three in Europe, and the remainder in Asia.

Cultivation and uses

The cherries selected for eating are derived from just two species, the Wild Cherry (P. avium), which has given rise to the Sweet Cherry to which most cherry cultivars belong, and the Morello Cherry or Sour Cherry (P. cerasus), used mainly for cooking and jam making. Both species originate in Europe and western Asia. The other species, although having edible fruit, are not grown extensively for consumption.

Major commercial cherry orchards in Europe extend from Iberia east to Asia Minor; they are also grown to a smaller extent north to the British Isles and southern Scandinavia. In the United States, most sweet cherries are grown in the west. California and Washington supply mainly sweet cherries intended for fresh use. Major sweet cherry cultivars include the 'Bing', 'Brooks', 'Tulare', 'King', and 'Rainier'. Oregon and Michigan provide light-coloured 'Royal Ann' ('Napoleon') cherries for the maraschino cherry process. Most sour cherries are grown in four states bordering the Great Lakes, in Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Cherries have a very short fruiting season. In Australia, they are usually at their peak around Christmas time, in southern Europe in June, and in the UK in mid July. Annual world production (as of 2003) of cherries is about 3 million tonnes, of which a third are sour cherries.

As well as the fruit, cherries also have attractive flowers, and they are commonly planted for their flower display in spring; several of the Asian cherries are particularly noted for their flower display. Many flowering cherry cultivars (known as 'ornamental cherries') have the stamens replaced by additional petals ("double" flowers), so are sterile and do not bear fruit. They are grown purely for their flowers and decorative value. The Japanese sakura in particular are a national symbol celebrated in the yearly Hanami festival.

Cherry flowers are sometimes eaten by the larva of the Green Pug moth and the leaves by the larva of other Lepidoptera including Coxcomb Prominent and Yellow-tail.

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