The Other Flowering Cherries

by Nancy Rose
May 18, 2016

pin cherry flowers

The Other Flowering Cherries

Say “flowering cherries” and a vision of trees bearing frothy masses of pink flowers may come to mind. The Japanese flowering cherries [pdf] in Washington, D.C., are well known for their spring floral display, and Arboretum visitors can see many of the showy early-flowering (typically April) cherries in the Bradley Rosaceous Collection. (Unfortunately the fluctuating temperatures and severe freeze in early April reduced the show this year.)

While the ruffled pink blossoms of Kwanzan cherry (Prunus serrulata ‘Kwanzan’ 831-67*D), one of the last Japanese cultivars to bloom, are now falling away, it is by no means the end of cherry bloom at the Arboretum. Many other Prunus species are now in flower or will be soon–it’s just that their smaller white flowers, which open as or after leaves emerge, are not as eye-catching as the early-flowering cherries. But these cherries have virtues of their own such as fragrant flowers that attract pollinators and bite-sized fruit for birds and other wildlife.

black cherry flowers

Black cherry (Prunus serotina) bears long racemes of fragrant white flowers followed by fruit that turns from red to black. Flower photo by Vern Wilkins, Indiana University, Fruit photo by Nancy Rose.

fruit of black cherry

Many of the less flashy cherries are North American natives. Pin cherry (P. pensylvanica), which ranges through northern tier states and well into Canada, is an early successional species that germinates and grows rapidly after fires or clear-cutting. The Arboretum currently has no pin cherry specimens but we plan to add it to the collection soon. Black cherry (P. serotina) is widely distributed in the eastern U.S. and is noted for its tart but edible fruits (long used with rum or whiskey to make a liqueur known as “cherry bounce”) and beautiful reddish wood. Arboretum specimens, including the massive one (15548*A) near the birch collection, are still several weeks from blooming (the epithet serotina means late flowering or fruiting). And don’t miss the unique mat-forming eastern sandcherry cultivar (P. depressa [syn. P. pumila  var. depressa] ‘Gus Mehlquist’ 6-2014*A) growing at the entrance to the Bradley Rosaceous Collection; in addition to its current sprinkling of starry white flowers, its foliage develops burgundy to red fall color.

eastern sandcherry

‘Gus Mehlquist’ eastern sandcherry has a very low but wide-spreading form. Photo by Nancy Rose.

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