Virginian bird cherry from North America is a tall shrub or shrub-like tree, growing naturally from the Pacific coast all the way to the Atlantic. In Canada it is a popular garden shrub, with attractive features throughout the year, like the cherries. When the leaves first break they are reddish in colour, passing through dark slightly shiny green in summer to a beautiful yellow in autumn
This Far East species is something of a mystery, whose description isn’t easy to find in the literature. Nevertheless, it has long been known in its native range. It – and other similar plum species – has been grown from seeds by the Chinese and Koreans especially in the Ussuri and the Yalu River valley areas. It resembles the Japanese plum (P. salicina). The American have taken into cultivation a Japanese plum variety called ‘Mandshurica’, whose description is very close to P. ussuriensis.
The black cherry, native to North America, has a conical habit with shiny dark green, narrow oval leaves. In warm autumns it turns various shades of yellow and red. The species flowers after the appearance of the foliage, a week or two after the Finnish native bird cherry, P. padus. The fruit of the black cherry is larger than the bird cherry, at first red but ripening to almost black.
Sargent’s cherry is a small to mid-sized tree usually of regular shape, which flowers early when other trees are just awakening to spring. In flower, it is the princess of any garden or park, totally smothered in large rose-red cherry blossom. The effect is emphasised by its brevity – flowering lasts only for about a week.
This is an extremely showy tree when it flowers like a white cloud at the end of May. In late summer the flowers develop into red, pea-sized berries with a hard stone seed, tasting bittersweet or acidic. The narrow pointed leaves take on very attractive red to orange autumn colour. The crown is narrow and airy, the branches usually erect, though in the variety ‘Bertta’ the crown is broader and the branches distinctly drooping.
Of the native flowering woody species the bird cherry has perhaps been blessed with the greatest abundance of blossom, and grows throughout the country. It is an intrinsic part of the Finnish landscape: among piles of stones cleared from fields, near wells and springs. If you close your eyes and imagine a Finnish landscape on a spring morning as coolness gives way to warmth, you can almost smell the scent of the flowering bird cherry. The tree is in full leaf before flowering begins, and the growth rate at its maximum, soon to be over.
One essential feature of Japanese gardens is the flowering cherry tree. But the characteristic ornamental cherries used in Japanese gardens are not hardy in Finland, so alternatives are more than welcome. The Kurile cherry is one of the smallest and hardiest. It flowers in early May with faintly pink, almost white blossoms. Another colour show occurs in autumn when the leaves take on brilliant orange shades.
Unfortunately this East Asian species is little grown in Finland. Although its flowering can’t match the decorative Japanese cherries, which blossom on bare branches, its habit and hardiness make it an excellent addition to the selection of flowering trees available. The white flowers appear after the leaves. It grows into a beautiful small tree, sometimes multi-stemmed, with the branches placed in attractive layers. The positioning of the leaves indicates a degree of shade tolerance greater than in most cherries.
The Mahaleb cherry is native to Europe and the Near-East. It has long been in cultivation all over the world and much used in grafting, for example as root stock for the sour cherry, Prunus cerasus. Particularly in North America, it is used as hedging and its seeds have been spread into the wild by birds, which has also happened on the island of Stora Karlsö, in Sweden’s Gothland. The fruit is also used industrially, the skins smelling aromatically of coumarin.
The Amur cherry can’t compete with the native bird cherry (Prunus padus) with regard to flowering, but is nevertheless a showy tree due to the bark on branches and trunk. This is a beautiful shiny yellow-coppery colour and exfoliates attractively.