The Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) is a species of cherry, native to Europe, northwest Africa, and western Asia, from the British Isles south to Morocco and Tunisia, and east to southern Sweden, Poland, Ukraine, the Caucasus, and northern Iran. It is a deciduous tree growing to 15 - 32 m tall, with a trunk up to 1.5 m diameter. Young trees show strong apical dominance with a straight trunk and symmetrical conical crown, becoming rounded to irregular on old trees. The bark is smooth purplish-brown with prominent horizontal grey-brown lenticels on young trees, becoming thick dark blackish-brown and fissured on old trees. In autumn, the leaves turn orange, pink or red before falling.
The flowers are produced in early spring at the same time as the new leaves, with five pure white petals, yellowish stamens, and a superior ovary; they are hermaphroditic, and pollinated by bees. The fruit is bright red to dark purple when mature in mid summer, edible, variably sweet to somewhat astringent and bitter to eat fresh; it contains a single hard-shelled stone, grooved along the flattest edge; the seed (kernel) inside the stone is 6–8 mm long. The fruit are readily eaten by numerous birds and mammals, which digest the fruit flesh and disperse the seeds in their droppings. All parts of the plant except for the ripe fruit are slightly toxic, containing cyanogenic glycosides.
The tree exudes a gum from wounds in the bark, by which it seals the wounds to exclude insects and fungal infections.
Cultivation and uses
Wild Cherries have been an item of human food for several thousands of years. The stones have been found in deposits at bronze age settlements throughout Europe, including in Britain. As the ancestor of the cultivated sweet cherry, the Wild Cherry is one of the two cherry species which supply most of the world's commercial cultivars of edible cherry (the other is the Sour Cherry Prunus cerasus, mainly used for cooking; a few other species have had a very small input). The gum from bark wounds is aromatic and can be chewed as a substitute for chewing gum.
Medicine can be prepared from the stalks of the drupes that is astringent, antitussive, and diuretic. The hard, reddish-brown wood is valued as a hardwood for turnery, and making cabinets and musical instruments.