Cherry trees, whether planted for their fruit or flowers, have been grown in the United States for hundreds of years. Many cherry trees, such as the Bing, require a large amount of chill hours (between 32 and 45 degrees F) each winter to thrive. Florida, being mostly tropical, can't grow the traditional cherries, but there are some varieties that will add color and delicious fruit to your garden.
The black cherry (Prunus serotina) is a native North American fruit tree that will grow in areas of Florida north of Lake Okeechobee. The black cherry can reach 60 to 90 feet in height, and it has low branches that droop to the ground. Its dark green, shiny leaves turn a lovely yellow, orange or red in the fall. Fragrant white blossoms in the spring become 1/2-inch, bitter, purple fruit used for jams, jellies and liqueurs. The black cherry's wood is highly prized and used for fine furniture. It will grow in most soils, alkaline or acidic, as long as the soil is well-drained. The black cherry has a high drought tolerance. Farmers should be aware that the tree's twigs and leaves contain hydrocyanic acid, which can poison livestock if consumed in large quantities.
Sargent cherry (Prunus sargentii) is a 25- to 40-foot-tall flowering cherry used in home gardens. Like many cherries, it likes cold winters; consequently, it grows only in Florida's panhandle. The Sargent cherry grows at a moderate rate. It has pink blossoms and cinnamon brown, shiny bark. Its pea-sized fruits start off red and ripen to purple in June and July. The Sargent cherry has 3- to 5-inch-long dark green leaves that turn brilliant orange, yellow or red in the early fall. It is drought-tolerant and grows best in slightly alkaline, well-drained soil.
The Barbados cherry (Malpighia glabra) is a fruit cherry native to the West Indies, South and Central America that flourishes in south Florida and the warmest areas of central Florida. Its fruit is renowned for its extremely high vitamin C content. This small tree, which can reach 20 feet, has shiny light to deep green leaves. Its flowers range from pale pink to rose, and it blooms from April through the summer. The Barbados cherry has 1-inch juicy, thin-skinned fruit ranging from light to deep crimson. The fruit's flesh is yellow and can contain as much as 4,500 milligrams of vitamin C in 100 grams of partially ripe fruit. It is made into jams, jellies, pies, sherbet and wine. The Barbados cherry may have three to five crops each year. The tree is cold-tender, capable of surviving temperatures only to 28 degrees F for short periods. It grows well in most soils, as long as they are well-drained and free of nematodes.
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