Identification & Description:
Bitter cherry is a shrub or small tree to 15 meters in height and with trunks to 30 cm in diameter. The bark of older trunks and branches peels horizontally, while that of younger twigs is smooth, reddish-brown, and somewhat shiny with scattered grayish red areas. The twigs are round in cross-section and 2 mm or greater in diameter.
The leaves are oval in shape and from 2.5-8 cm long. They are alternate on the stems, and have a pair of knob-like glands at the base. The upper surface of the leaf is smooth while the underside may be somewhat hairy. The margins are serrate.
The flowers are in clumps of 5-8, with 5 white petals, 5 smaller and green sepals, and as many as 20 stamens. The fruits are small, 1 cm in diameter, and bright red to black in color.
A decidious tree growing to 5m at a medium rate. It is hardy to zone 6. It is in flower in May, and the seeds ripen from July to August. The scented flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects. We rate it 2 out of 5 for usefulness.
The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil.
Bitter cherry may be found from southern British Columbia (including Vancouver Island) south through Washington and Oregon to the Sierra Nevada of California. It may be found eastward to the Rocky Mountains.
Fruit – raw or cooked. Intensely bitter[1, 11, 82, 99]. Some native North American Indian tribes saw the fruit as a great delicacy and an important food source, though others only ate it occasionally because of its bitter taste. The fruit is 8 – 15mm in diameter with a thick flesh, and contains one large seed.
Seed – raw or cooked. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter – see the notes above on toxicity.
Basketry; Dye; Fuel; String; Wood.
A green dye can be obtained from the leaves.
A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit.
The bark is used to ornament baskets and is also split into strips and used for making baskets that are watertight and resist decay. The bark is both strong and flexible as well as being ornamental. The thin outer bark can be peeled off the tree in the same way as birch trees. It has been used to make baskets, mats, ropes and as an ornament on bows, arrows etc. The bark can also be made into a string.
Wood – close-grained, soft, brittle. It is sometimes used for furniture because it takes a high polish. An excellent fuel.
Thrives in a well-drained moisture-retentive loamy soil. Prefers some lime in the soil but is likely to become chlorotic if too much lime is present. Succeeds in sun or partial shade though it fruits better in a sunny position. This species is unable to tolerate much shade competition from other trees.
A fast-growing but short-lived species in the wild.
The flowers diffuse a soft honey scent.
Most members of this genus are shallow-rooted and will produce suckers if the roots are damaged.
Plants in this genus are notably susceptible to honey fungus.