Prunus avium is an exotic fruit tree that originally hails from South Eastern Europe and Asia. Known for its delicious fruit and pretty spring blossoms, this tree has a long standing history in South Africa.
The first cherry orchard was planted in 1860 near Cape Town, but the main cherry production area today is situated in the Eastern Free State, where trees were established in 1905. There are two kinds of cherry, sweet and sour. The sweet varieties are derived mainly from Prunus avium and include ‘Bing’ and ‘Lapis’, whilst the sour cherry derives from Prunus cerasus which is self-pollinating and produces the famous ‘Morello’ type. Sweet cherries may be eaten fresh or cooked, but sour cherries are always cooked or made into liqueurs or preserves.
The Cherry tree is large and deciduous. The canopy of the tree is dense and the foliage is deep green with shiny, serrated leaves during growing season. During spring clusters of sweetly scented, white blossoms appear that are ornamental in their own right, while attracting bees and birds to the garden. The flowers are followed by shiny, red fruits that appear singly or in clusters and ripen through early to mid-summer. The season is short, and the fruit does not keep or travel well thus fresh cherries are treasured. It is also important to bear in mind that the tree is slow in producing fruit and can grow to large proportions.
Cherry trees need long, cold winters and hot summers to grow to their fullest potential, however hail, harsh sun and heavy rains could influence formation of the fruit. If planting the tree in the Highveld region, it is recommended to choose a site with afternoon shade as the sunny winter could create sunburn on the tree.