Monday, 30 April 2018

The Wild Cherry

I make no excuse for devoting a blog to a single plant for the Wild Cherry, Prunus avium, is, as A.E. Housman stated 'the loveliest of trees' and, with regard to the British flora, few of us would disagree. The Gean, to use its other name, is found throughout the British Isles but Druce (Ref. 1) described its Northamptonshire status as 'local'. However the latest distribution maps, as in Gent & Wilson (Ref 2) show it to be common - even very common - throughout Northants. The reason for this apparent discrepancy is easy to explain: it is widely used as an amenity tree in parks, gardens and beside our roads. The cultivated Sweet Cherry is basically Prunus avium but often an extra chromosome is present, perhaps a result of some hybridization with Prunus cerasus. Pollination is by insects and this is essential as the flowers are self-sterile. An examination of the leaves shows that a pair of red glands is present on the leaf stalk just below the leaf-blade.


A pair of red glands on the petiole establish that this is a cherry.
Stefen Hill. 30 April, 2018

On the slopes of Beggars Bank, below Newnham windmill, I suspect that the wild cherry is truly native, with some impressive specimens of considerable age present. However, there may have been some planting, and the specimen shown came into blossom earlier than the remainder, suggesting that is genetically different.
Cherry on Beggars Bank, below Newnham Windmill. 19 April, 2018
Large specimens were prized in the past for yielding fine timber or sheets for veneering and are never - or rarely - deliberately coppiced. If a tree appears to be coppiced it is more likely be a consequence of accidental damage.
This 'coppicing' is likely to been a result of damage to the tree when just a
sapling. Christchurch Drive, Daventry. 14 March, 2018

All parts of the tree, with the exception of the fruit, are slightly toxic, containing alkaloids with a cyanide base. Poisoning must be extremely rare as no cases seem to have been recorded, at least in Britain. Oddly enough field mice open up the 'stone' to extract the kernel and the bill of the hawfinch has evolved specifically to crack open cherry stones, hawthorn and the like. Of course the wild cherry is a food source for many other creatures: for instance a number of aphid species are found, frequently on the leaf petioles.
Chris and I have an allotment upon which stands a rather nice specimen of cherry, not really wild of course but probably planted some twenty years ago.
Our cherry provides fruit for the local birds.
Drayton Allotments. 25 April, 2018
Its shade renders part of the allotment unusable for vegetables but we are fond of it. It is you might say, a cherished cherry; it will be safe as long as we are the plot holders. 


1. G. Claridge Druce,  (1930)The Flora of Northamptonshire  T. Buncle & Co. Arbroath

2. Gent, G and Wilson R. (2012) The Flora of Northamptonshire and the Soke of Peterborough  Robert Wilson Designs, Rothwell

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