Cherry trees, whether they are flowering or are grown mostly for their fruits, are all members of the rose family. Smaller, ornamental flowering cherry trees grow as individual specimen trees or as foundation plants for a more formal garden. Trees with edible fruits do best in a place where the falling cherries will not be a hazard for someone out for a walk. Birds and small animals will come for the fruit no matter what type it is, but there will be plenty of the edible ones left over for the gardener to enjoy.
Weeping Higan cherry (Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula') is a flowering variety that does well near ponds and in water gardens. Bird cherry (Prunus avium 'Lapins') is grown for the sweet fruit. Wild cherry (Prunus serotina) is also known as rum cherry and is found all up and down the East Coast and as far west as Minnesota and Texas.
Weeping Higan cherry measures up to 40 feet tall and 25 feet wide; it starts out oval-shaped and develops an umbrella-shaped crown as it matures. Bird cherry grows from 12 to 18 feet tall and 12 to 15 feet wide. It is a semi-dwarf variety and is used to pollinate other varieties. Wild cherry grows from 40 to 60 feet tall; it can reach 100 feet, but this is rare.
Weeping Higan cherry grows medium- to dark-green, egg-shaped to elliptic-shaped leaves that turn green, chartreuse or yellow in the fall. Light-pink flowers appear in March or early April in large clusters before the leaves appear. The flowers give way to small, glossy black, inedible fruits.
Bird cherry features white-pink flowers that bloom in April and give way to red, sweet cherries.
The leaves of the wild cherry have the fragrance of black cherry soda when crushed. The leaves grow from 2 to 6 inches long, come to a sharp point and turn yellow or red in the fall. The tree produces tiny, white flowers that bloom in early spring at the same time that the leaves, which grow in drooping clusters from 4 to 6 inches long, give way to dark red, bitter-tasting cherries.
Weeping Higan cherry grows in full sun or partial shade and a moist, well-drained soil. It is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8. Bird cherry is also hardy in zones 5 to 8 and likes full sun and a moist, well-drained soil. It cannot take a soil that is wet. Wild cherry needs full sun and a moist soil and is hardy in zones 4 to 9.
Weeping Higan cherry is susceptible to crown canker. Frost can cause the trunks to split, and trunk borers and Japanese Beetles can do damage.
Bird cherry is susceptible to leaf spot, bacterial canker, brown rot, black knot, crown gall, leaf curl, leaf scorch, powdery mildew, root rot and scab diseases. Aphids, fruit flies, saw flies and scale damage the tree. Wild cherry is attacked by tent caterpillars, and the leaves and inner bark contain cyanide and can be harmful to cattle and horses. Deer and rabbits make a meal out of the seedlings.