CHERRY. As a cultivated fruit-tree the cherry is generally supposed to be of Asiatic origin, whence, according to Pliny, it was brought to Italy by Lucullus after his defeat of Mithradates, king of Pontus, 68 B.C. As with most plants which have been long and extensively cultivated, it is a matter of difficulty, if not an impossibility, to identify the parent stock of the numerous cultivated varieties of cherry; but they are generally referred to two species: Prunus Cerasus, the wild or dwarf cherry, the origin of the morello, duke and Kentish cherries, and P. Avium, the gean, the origin of the geans, hearts and bigarreaus. Both species grow wild through Europe and western Asia to the Himalayas, but the dwarf cherry has the more restricted range of the two in Britain, as it does not occur in Scotland and is rare in Ireland. The cherries form a section Cerasus of the genus Prunus; and they have sometimes been separated as a distinct genus from the plums proper; both have a stone-fruit or drupe, but the drupe of the cherry differs from that of the plum in not having a waxy bloom; further, the leaves of the plum are rolled (convolute) in the bud, while those of the cherry are folded (conduplicate).
The cherries are trees of moderate size and shrubs, having smooth, serrate leaves and white flowers. They are natives of the temperate regions of both hemispheres; and the cultivated varieties ripen their fruit in Norway as far as 63° N. The geans are generally distinguished from the common cherry by the greater size of the trees, and the deeper colour and comparative insipidity of the flesh in the ripe fruit, which adheres firmly to the "nut" or stone; but among the very numerous cultivated varieties specific distinctions shade away so that the fruit cannot be ranged under these two heads. The leading varieties are recognized as bigarreaus, dukes, morellos and geans. Several varieties are cultivated as ornamental trees and on account of their flowers.
The cherry is a well-flavoured sub-acid fruit, and is much esteemed for dessert. Some of the varieties are particularly selected for pies, tarts, etc., and others for the preparation of preserves, and for making cherry brandy. The fruit is also very extensively employed in the preparation of the liqueurs known as kirschwasser, ratafia and maraschino. Kirschwasser is made chiefly on the upper Rhine from the wild black gean, and in the manufacture the entire fruit-flesh and kernels are pulped up and allowed to ferment. By distillation of the fermented pulp the liqueur is obtained in a pure, colourless condition. Ratafia is similarly manufactured, also by preference from a gean. Maraschino, a highly valued liqueur, the best of which is produced at Zara in Dalmatia, differs from these in being distilled from a cherry called marasca, the pulp of which is mixed with honey, honey or sugar being added to the distillate for sweetening. It is also said that the flavour is heightened by the use of the leaves of the perfumed cherry, Prunus Mahaleb, a native of central and southern Europe.
The wood of the cherry tree is valued by cabinetmakers, and that of the gean tree is largely used in the manufacture of tobacco pipes. The American wild cherry, Prunus serotina, is much sought after, its wood being compact, fine-grained, not liable to warp, and susceptible of receiving a brilliant polish. The kernels of the perfumed cherry, P. Mahaleb, are used in confectionery and for scent. A gum exudes from the stem of cherry trees similar in its properties to gum arabic.
The cherry is increased by budding on the wild gean, obtained by sowing the stones of the small black or red wild cherries. To secure very dwarf trees the Prunus Mahaleb has been used for the May duke, Kentish, morello and analogous sorts, but it is not adapted for strong-growing varieties like the bigarreaus. The stocks are budded, or, more rarely, grafted, at the usual seasons. The cherry prefers a free, loamy soil, with a well-drained subsoil. Stiff soils and dry gravelly subsoils are both unsuitable, though the trees require a large amount of moisture, particularly the large-leaved sorts, such as the bigarreaus. For standard trees, the bigarreau section should be planted 30 ft. apart, or more, in rich soil, and the May duke, morello and similar varieties 20 or 25 ft. apart; while, as trained trees against walls and espaliers, from 20 to 24 ft. should be allowed for the former, and from 15 to 20 ft. for the latter. In forming the stems of a standard tree the temporary side-shoots should not be allowed to attain too great a length, and should not be more than two years old when they are cut close to the stem. The first three shoots retained to form the head should be shortened to about 15 in., and two shoots from each encouraged, one at the end, and the other 3 or 4 in. lower down. When these have become established, very little pruning will be required, and that chiefly to keep the principal branches as nearly equal in strength as possible for the first few years. Espalier trees should have the branches about a foot apart, starting from the stem with an upward curve, and then being trained horizontally. In summer pruning the shoots on the upper branches must be shortened at least a week before those on the lower ones. After a year or two clusters of fruit buds will be developed on spurs along the branches, and those spurs will continue productive for an indefinite period. For wall trees any form of training may be adopted; but as the fruit is always finest on young spurs, fan-training is probably the most advantageous. A succession of young shoots should be laid in every year. The morello, which is of twiggy growth and bears on the young wood, must be trained in the fan form, and care should be taken to avoid the very common error of crowding its branches.
Forcing. - The cherry will not endure a high temperature nor close atmosphere. A heat of 45° at night will be sufficient at starting, this being gradually increased during the first few weeks to 55°, but lowered again when the blossom buds are about to open. After stoning the temperature may be again gradually raised to 60°, and may go up to 70° by day, or 75° by Sun heat, and 60° at night. The best forcing cherries are the May duke and the royal duke, the duke cherries being of more compact growth than the bigarreau tribe and generally setting better; nevertheless a few of the larger kinds, such as bigarreau Napoléon, black tartarian and St Margaret's, should be forced for variety. The trees may be either planted out in tolerably rich soil, or grown in large pots of good turfy friable calcareous loam mixed with rotten dung. If the plants are small, they may be put into 12-in. pots in the first instance, and after a year shifted into 15-in. pots early in autumn, and plunged in some loose or even very slightly fermenting material. The soil of the pots should be protected from snow-showers and cold rains. Occasionally trees have been taken up in autumn with balls, potted and forced in the following spring; but those which have been established a year in the pots are to be preferred. Such only as are well furnished with blossom-buds should be selected. The trees should be removed to the forcing house in the beginning of December, if fruit be required very early in the season. During the first and second weeks it may be kept nearly close; but, as vegetation advances, air becomes absolutely necessary during the day, and even at night when the weather will permit. If forcing is commenced about the middle or third week of December, the fruit ought to be ripe by about the end of March. After the fruit is gathered, the trees should be duly supplied with water at the root, and the foliage kept well syringed till the wood is mature. (See also Fruit and Flower Farming.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)