Japanese Hill Cherry – Prunus serrulata

Japanese Hill Cherry – Prunus serrulata var. spontanea Widely grown as an ornamental, Japanese hill cherry is commonly called mountain or oriental cherry.
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Japanese Mountain Cherry

Japanese Mountain Cherry is 19 years old [2]
The National Cherry Blossom Festival, held annually at Washington, D.C. is a commemoration of the 1912 gift from the city of Tokyo of  over 3,000 Prunus serrulata for planting around the Tidal Basin at the National Mall.  The people of Japan have donated many more thousands of cherry trees in several different cultivars over the years, including Yoshino, Kwanza, Akebono, and Sargent cherry [2].

Hill cherry is hardy in USDA zones 5-6 and, like almost all fruit trees, grows best in full sun and well-drained but moist soil. It grows to 25 feet at maturity, but not particularly quickly; White flowers open in May, but don't result in much actual fruit production [3].  Not known for longevity.

Japanese Mountain Cherry foliage

Japanese mountain cherry foliage

Michael Landem, noted Master cabinetmaker of Boulder, Colorado gives his description of the properties of cherry wood:
     "Cherry is a pleasant wood to work, having a fragrant aroma when cut, an obedient nature and good working properties when properly dried. Blades must be kept sharp as the wood does have a tendency to burn under heavy milling. The wood is hard but relatively light, having a specific gravity of 0.63, a weight of 39 pounds per cubic foot.

     Cherry can be highly figured or relatively plain, but the wood frequently displays fine optical properties. Sapwood is pale pinkish to creamy and the heartwood brown with gold and green hues running through it, showing distinctly darker bands of summer growth. It will darken with age and oxidation to a rich, reddish-brown."

Japanese Mountain Cherry Bark

Bark is smooth with prominent lenticels [1]
Cherries are an important source of food for many non-game birds, squirrel, deer, turkey, and other wildlife. I can tell you from a childhood spent chasing songbirds from our cherry trees, robins, grackles, starlings, and jays love cherries; but we loved them more; my mom's cherry pie was even better than her apple or rhubarb. I would kill for a piece of that pie with vanilla ice cream! A better dessert has never been invented, in my humble opinion, "mom & apple pie" notwithstanding.

The leaves, twigs, and bark of black cherry contain cyanide in bound form as the cyanogenic glycoside, prunasin. During foliage wilting, cyanide is released and domestic livestock that eat wilted foliage may get sick or die. Deer eat unwilted foliage without harm.

The bark has alleged medicinal properties. In the southern Appalachians, bark is stripped from young black cherries for use in cough medicines, tonics, and sedatives. The fruit is used for making jelly, wine, brandy and pies.

The most important defoliating insects attacking cherry trees include the eastern tent caterpillars (below) and the cherry scallop shell moth (Hydria prunivorata). Infestations of these insects are sporadically heavy, with some apparent growth loss and occasional mortality if heavy defoliations occur several years in a row [3].

Tent caterpillars
Cherry is often infested with tent caterpillars in springtime.
These pests can strip a tree of foliage in a matter of days.

  1. Japanese Mountain Cherry, Morton Arboretum acc. 182-90-4, photos © Bruce Marlin
  2. Wikipedia, "National Cherry Blossom Festival"
  3. USDA, ARS,  – (GRIN) Prunus buergeriana
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