Cherries (Prunus spp.) are members of the Rosaceae (or rose) family along with almonds, apricots, peaches, and plums. The two most common types of cherries are sweet cherries (Prunus avium L.) and sour (Prunus cerasus L.), often called tart cherries.
Originally brought to the United States by English colonists in the early 1600s, Spanish missionaries brought cherries west to California. California remains the U.S.’s top producer of sweet cherries, and along with Washington and Oregon, all three states account for nearly 90% of cherry production in the country. Sour cherries are grown primarily in Michigan and account for almost 74% of production.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Purdue University Extension, UC Davis Fruit/Nut Research & Information Center, Western Growers Association.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
Cherries can generally be classified as sweet or sour/tart. Less common varieties include Duke Cherries – a hybrid of sweet and sour, and Blushed Yellow Cherries – considered a niche category that is difficult to grow and generally more expensive. About 75% of sweet cherries are grown for the fresh market with the rest sent for processing. Conversely, 99% of sour cherries are processed.
The most common sour cherry variety is Montmorency. Popular sweet cherry varieties include Benton, Bing, Brooks, Chelan, Coral, Lambert, Lapin, Rainer, Regina, Royal Ann, Skeena, Sweetheart, Tieton, and Tulare. Low-chill California varieties begin the harvest season in mid-April and continue until June when the Washington harvests commence. Oregon follows and U.S. Pacific Northwest harvests end in August, while Canada extends into September.
Fresh market standards for cherries are strict as the fruit is fragile and easily damaged. Fruit not meeting standards is sent for processing, where cherries are frozen, canned, juiced, brined, dried, or made into wine. Sweet cherries are often processed into Maraschino cherries and sour cherries are more often frozen.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Michigan State University, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, UC Davis Fruit/Nut Research & Information Center, Washington State Fruit Commission.
PESTS & DISEASE
Cherries are susceptible to many diseases from blue mold, bacterial canker, black knot, cherry buckskin disease, cherry leaf spot, gray mold, and powdery mildew to various types of rot. A more recent threat is the simply named ‘little cherry disease’ which produces small, sour fruit lacking proper color.
Cherry leaf spot and cherry buckskin disease are two of the more serious diseases. Cherry leaf spot is characterized by small red to purple spots on leaves. The spots grow and turn a brownish color, bleeding through to the underside of leaves. During wet or humid periods, small white patches appear in the center of the spots, which contain fungal spores. Infected leaves later turn yellow and fall from the tree.
Symptoms of cherry buckskin disease (also known as X-disease) vary depending on the rootstock, but can include pale foliage with a red tint that curls upwards, pits and grooves in the tree’s wood, smaller than normal leaves, and sparse foliage. Fruit may also be lighter colored and pointed with a leathery texture (i.e., buckskin).
Pests of concern include the American plum borer, aphids, various fruit flies, leafhoppers, maggots, slug larvae, spotted wing drosophila, European red mites, lesser peachtree borer, and plum curculio.
The western cherry fruit fly and cherry leafhopper are two of the more serious pests. The western cherry fruit fly lays eggs that turn into maggots inside the fruit, potentially infesting every cherry on the tree. The cherry leafhopper is of particular concern because it can spread cherry buckskin disease (see above). These dark brown insects, whose shape and color mimic cherry buds, prefer cherry trees above other possible hosts.
References: Cornell University, PennState Extension, Purdue University, University of California Cooperative Extension, Utah State University Cooperative Extension, Washington State University.