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Cherry, sour (Prunus cerasus)

Sour, or tart, cherry is a deciduous shrub, native to Asia and much of Europe.

Common name: sour, or tart, cherry

Scientific name: Prunus cerasus

Family: Rosaceae

UK provenance: non-native

Interesting fact: sour cherries are self fertile and so do not need a polliniser.

What does sour cherry look like?

Overview: it can reach up to 10 metres high and grows best in moist, rich soil. The sour cherry requires more nitrogen and water than sweet cherries. The bark of the tree is reddish-brown and shiny, with peeling horizontal strips. The branches spread upwards and have smooth twigs.

Leaves: the long, ovate leaves are dark green and glossy with an abrupt point at the tip. The leaf margins have small teeth around the edge. While the top of the leaf is smooth and glossy the underneath can be downy.

Flowers: White flowers occur in clusters of between two and six.

Fruits: fruit ranges from bright red to almost black and is round with a soft, fleshy layer.

Look out for: the stems of the leaves have two yellow or red glands.

Could be confused with: bird cherry (Prunus padus), plum cherry (Prunus cerasifera), wild cherry (Prunis avuim). Sour cherry fruit is on shorter stalks compared to wild cherry fruit.

Identified in winter by: twigs are hairless, as are the buds. Buds at the end of the stems are single or in clusters of 2-3.

Value to wildlife

The fruit is eaten by many mammals and birds, often as soon as it becomes ripe.

Mythology and symbolism

Historically the fruit has been used medicinally to treat various ailments including upset stomachs. Recently, research has begun to uncover the possibility that the sour cherry could be a new superfood, high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and melatonin.

How we use sour cherry

Sour cherry trees are cultivated for their edible fruit, the cherries can also be cooked or preserved and the syrup is used in drinks and liqueurs. Sour cherries have a high melatonin content and it has been suggested that the fruit is useful is alleviating sleep problems.


It suffers from fewer pests and diseases than sweet cherry trees. The main threat is from birds removing the fruit. It can also suffer from damage by aphids and caterpillars.

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