Prunus cerasus

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Prunus cerasus (sour cherry,[3] tart cherry, or dwarf cherry[4]) is a species of Prunus in the subgenus Cerasus (cherries), native to much of Europe, North Africa and West Asia. It is closely related to the sweet cherry (Prunus avium), but has a fruit that is more acidic. Its sour pulp is edible.[5]

Prunus cerasus
1897 illustration[1]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Rosales
Family: Rosaceae
Genus: Prunus
Subgenus: Prunus subg. Cerasus
P. cerasus
Binomial name
Prunus cerasus
L. 1753
    • Cerasus acida (Ehrh.) Borkh.
    • Cerasus austera (L.) Borkh.
    • Cerasus austera (L.) M.Roem.
    • Cerasus collina Lej. & Courtois
    • Cerasus fruticosa Pall.
    • Cerasus vulgaris Mill.
    • Druparia cerasus (L.) Clairv.
    • Prunus acida Ehrh.
    • Prunus aestiva Salisb.
    • Prunus austera (L.) Ehrh.
    • Prunus caproniana (L.) Gaudin
    • Prunus recta (Liegel) K.Koch
    • Prunus semperflorens Ehrh.

The tree is smaller than the sweet cherry (growing to a height of 4–10 m), has twiggy branches, and its crimson-to-near-black cherries are borne upon shorter stalks. There are two main varieties (groups of cultivars) of the sour cherry: the dark-red Morello cherry and the lighter-red Amarelle cherry.[6]

Origins and cultivation

Illustration of Morello cherry

Prunus cerasus, a tetraploid with 2n=32 chromosomes, is thought to have originated as a natural hybrid between Prunus avium and Prunus fruticosa in the Iranian Plateau or Eastern Europe where the two species come into contact. Prunus fruticosa is believed to have provided its smaller size and sour tasting fruit. The hybrids then stabilized and interbred to form a new, distinct species.[7]

Cultivated sour cherries were selected from wild specimens of Prunus cerasus and the doubtfully distinct P. acida from around the Caspian and Black Seas, and were known to the Greeks in 300 BC. They were also extremely popular with Persians and the Romans who introduced them into Britain long before the 1st century AD[citation needed] The fruit remains popular in modern-day Iran.

In England, their cultivation was popularized in the 16th century in the time of Henry VIII. They became a popular crop amongst Kentish growers, and by 1640 over two dozen named cultivars were recorded.[citation needed]

A blooming sour cherry tree

Before the Second World War there were more than fifty cultivars of sour cherry in cultivation in England; today, however, few are grown commercially, and despite the continuation of named cultivars such as 'Kentish Red', 'Amarelles', 'Griottes' and 'Flemish', only the generic Morello is offered by most nurseries. This is a late-flowering variety, and thus misses more frosts than its sweet counterpart and is therefore a more reliable cropper. The Morello cherry ripens in mid to late summer, toward the end of August in southern England. It is self-fertile, and would be a good pollenizer for other varieties if it did not flower so late in the season.[citation needed]

Worldwide sour cherry production today

Sour cherries require similar cultivation conditions to pears, that is, they prefer a rich, well-drained, moist soil, although they demand more nitrogen and water than sweet cherries. Trees will do badly if waterlogged, but have greater tolerance of poor drainage than sweet varieties. As with sweet cherries, Morellos are traditionally cultivated by budding onto strong growing rootstocks, which produce trees too large for most gardens, although newer dwarfing rootstocks such as Colt and Gisella are now available. During spring, flowers should be protected, and trees weeded, mulched and sprayed with natural seaweed solution. This is also the time when any required pruning should be carried out (note that cherries should not be pruned during the dormant winter months). Morello cherry trees fruit on younger wood than sweet varieties, and thus can be pruned harder. They are usually grown as standards, but can be fan trained, cropping well even on cold walls, or grown as low bushes.[8]

Ripe sour cherries (Somogy, Hungary)
Ripe sour cherries and their leaves (Karaj, Iran)
A sour cherry Beauty Sheet

Sour cherries suffer fewer pests and diseases than sweet cherries, although they are prone to heavy fruit losses from birds. In summer, fruit should be protected with netting. When harvesting fruit, they should be cut from the tree rather than risking damage by pulling the stalks.[citation needed]

Unlike most sweet cherry varieties, sour cherries are self fertile or self pollenizing (sometimes inaccurately referred to as self-pollinating). Two implications of this are that seeds generally run true to the cultivar, and that much smaller pollinator populations are needed because pollen only has to be moved within individual flowers. In areas where pollinators are scarce, growers find that stocking beehives in orchards improves yields.[9]

Top 10 sour cherry producers in 2012
Country Production (tonnes) Footnote
  Turkey 187,941
  Russia 183,300 *
  Poland 175,391
  Ukraine 172,800
  Iran 105,000 F
  Serbia 74,656
  Hungary 53,425
  United States 38,601
  Uzbekistan 34,000 F
  Azerbaijan 23,085
World 1,149,531 A
* = Unofficial figure | [ ] = Official data | A = May include official, semi-official or estimated data
F = FAO estimate | Im = FAO data based on imputation methodology | M = Data not available

Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)[10]


Kriek lambic is infused with sour cherries.



Dried sour cherries are used in cooking including soups, pork dishes, cakes, tarts, and pies. Also used to make a jam/fruit spread.[citation needed]

Sour cherries are particularly popular in Turkey, especially in the form of vişne suyu (sour cherry nectar), a widely-consumed beverage, and vişne reçeli (sour cherry jam), often eaten as part of a traditional kahvaltı (Turkish breakfast) or mixed into plain yoghurt.[citation needed]

Sour cherries or sour cherry syrup are used in liqueurs and drinks, such as the Romanian vișinată or the Portuguese ginjinha. In Iran, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, sour cherries are prized for making spoon sweets by slowly boiling pitted sour cherries and sugar; the syrup thereof is used for sharbat-e Albalou, vişne şurubu or vyssináda, a beverage made by diluting the syrup with ice-cold water. A particular use of sour cherries is in the production of kriek lambic, a cherry-flavored variety of a naturally fermented beer made in Belgium.[11][12] In Germany and Austria sour cherries are often used for desserts such as the Donauwelle.

See also



  1. ^ illustration from Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen 1897
  2. ^ "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  3. ^ USDA, NRCS (n.d.). "Prunus cerasus". The PLANTS Database ( Greensboro, North Carolina: National Plant Data Team. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  4. ^ BSBI List 2007 (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  5. ^ Little, Elbert L. (1980). The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region. New York: Knopf. p. 498. ISBN 0-394-50760-6.
  6. ^ Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language. Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Co., 1913. See amarelle at p. 67.
  7. ^ Stocks, Christopher (2009). "Britain's forgotten fruits". Flora. 1: 1–200.
  8. ^ "NALDC".
  9. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-02-02. Retrieved 2016-11-01.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ "Major Food And Agricultural Commodities And Producers – Countries By Commodity". Retrieved Feb 3, 2015.
  11. ^ Jackson, Michael (1997). The Simon Schuster Pocket Guide to Beer. Simon and Schuster. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-684-84381-0.
  12. ^ "Guinda". (in Spanish). 28 September 2021.