Prunus avium is best known as the Wild Cherry, but is also called sweet cherry and historically as ‘gean’ (Scotland) or ‘mazzard’. It is also sometimes called the Bird Cherry, although that is actually a different species; Prunus padus, which is really confusing as the scientific name of the wild cherry translates as ‘bird cherry’! It is native to Europe, western Asia and northern Africa. It is a medium sized deciduous tree, although it can grow to 30 meters it is often short lived at around sixty years. It is the main ancestor of cultivated sweet cherry species. One of our prettiest trees it is relished by gardeners and wildlife. It has a shiny red bark with cream-coloured horizontal lines called lenticels. Cherry trees are hermaphrodite, meaning the male and female reproductive parts are found in the same flower. It is known for attracting bees, beneficial insects, birds, butterflies & moths and other pollinators. Its nectar & pollen-rich flowers provide shelter and habitat, has seeds for birds and is a caterpillar food plant.
The blossom and leaves are produced at the same time in spring. The fruit are widely eaten by birds and mammals who often eat them whole and so dispersing the seed (pips) in their droppings.
Funky Fact File: All parts of the plant, except the ripe fruit, are slightly toxic as they contain cyanogenic glycosides. Hawfinches use their strong beaks to crack open the pips and eat the kernel inside. If the bark is wounded it produces a gum which seals the wound to exclude insects and fungi. Wild cherry pips have been found in deposits at Bronze age settlements including one at Minster-in-Thanet!