The sour cherry tree (Prunus cerasus) is a species of cherry tree known for its sour cherries. Of all the stone fruit trees (fruit that has just one seed, or pit), sour cherries are the last to bloom in the spring, according to the University of Georgia. While they are not as popular as sweet cherries, they are commercially valuable. Washington State accounts for almost half of commercial P. cerasus cultivation. The cherries are most often used to make pie fillings.
The sour cherry tree is classified as a small- to medium-size tree, notes Virginia Tech University. P. cerasus grows to an average height of about 30 feet, with a large, rounded crown. The tree has a wider profile than the sweet cherry. Pruning keeps the sour cherry tree to a manageable size and is usually done to maintain the tree at 15 feet tall. In the wild, the sour cherry has been known to reach heights of 50 feet.
The sour cherry is a deciduous tree, meaning the leaves drop off the tree when the cool weather of fall arrives. The leaves are medium green in color, with an ovate or oval shape. They range in length from 2 to 5 inches, depending on the age of the tree and the cultivar, and have serrated edges. The leaves turn red or orange in the fall.
The sour cherry's flowers are creamy white with yellow centers, and simple, meaning they have a single layer of five petals. They grow in clusters, with three, four or five flowers in each cluster. The flowers begin to bloom as the leaves begin to uncurl, usually in mid to late spring, but this can vary depending on the climate.
Wood and Bark
The bark of P. cerasus varies in color from reddish-brown to gray-brown, depending on the age of the tree and the cultivar. The texture is rough and peeling, with horizontal cracks. The twigs are the same color as the bark, with brown buds. The wood tastes vaguely of bitter almonds, reports Virginia Tech University.
Sour cherries are brighter red than their sweeter counterparts, according to the University of Georgia. They can grow in clusters or singly, and range from between 1/2 and 1 inch in diameter.