cherry, name for several species of trees or shrubs of the genus Prunus (a few are sometimes classed as Padus ) of the family Rosaceae (rose family) and for their fruits. The small, round red to black fruits are botanically designated drupes, or stone fruits, as are those of the closely related peach, apricot, and plum. The cherry is one of the most commonly grown home-orchard fruits. About 600 varieties are cultivated, practically all derived from two species— P. avium (sweet cherries) and P. cerasus (sour cherries). Both are believed to be native to Asia Minor and have long been cultivated; they were mentioned in the writings of the ancients. Sour cherries are hardier and more easily grown than sweet cherries and are mostly self-fertile, while many sweet cherries must be cross-pollinated to bear well. The fruit is popular raw, in preserves, and in pies; cherry cider and liqueurs are also made. Europe is the largest producing area. Several species of the flowering cherry, many native to East Asia, are cultivated as weeping or erect trees for their beautiful, usually double flowers. The Japanese make a national festival of cherry-blossom time; the city of Tokyo presented a number of trees to Washington, D.C., where they have become a popular spring attraction. The species of American wild cherry include the chokecherry, pin cherry, and wild, black cherry. These have smaller fruits than the cultivated cherries and are seldom used except for jelly. Wood of the wild, black cherry, or rum cherry ( P. serotina ), usually reddish in color, is fine grained and of high quality. It takes a high polish and is prized for cabinetwork. The aromatic bark and leaves contain hydrocyanic acid, characteristic of many cherries. The cherry laurel ( P. laurocerasus or Laurocerasus officinalis ) is an Old World evergreen species cultivated elsewhere in many varieties as an ornamental. The leaves are sometimes used as a flavoring and in making cherry laurel water. The American cherry laurel ( P. or L. caroliniana ), called mock orange in the South, is similar but larger. For the cherry plum, or myrobalan, see plum. Cherries are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Rosaceae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.