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Bird Cherry

Prunus padus

  • Name also: European Bird Cherry, Hackberry
  • Family: Rose Family – Rosaceae
  • Growing form and height: Shrub or tree. 2–12 m (7–40 ft.).
  • Flower: Regular (actinomorphic), fairly small, heavy-scented. Calyx-lobes 5, short, triangular. Petals 5, white, rarely reddish. One carpel. Stamens more than 20. Inflorescence a many-flowered, pendent raceme. Insect-pollinated.
  • Leaves: Alternate on the annual shoot. Stalked, entire, almost hairless on both sides, sometimes brown-hairy beneath. Blade 5–10 cm (2–4 in.), elliptic, taper-pointed, margins fine-toothed. Autumn colour various shades of pale yellow and red, comes early.
  • Buds: Narrowly egg-shaped, long, sharp-pointed, brown. Scale edges usually lighter than rest of the scale.
  • Fruit: Shiny black, small drupe with a large seed.
  • Habitat: Broadleaf woods, streamsides, waterside thickets, forest margins. Also an ornamental.
  • Flowering time: May–July.

Cherries and plums (Prunus) form a genus of close to 200 species. Most of the species occur in the temperate zone of the Northern hemisphere. Bird cherry flowers showily in early summer. It is quite demanding as regards the growing substrate, but thrives also in shade. However, in scarce light it produces fewer flowers, and often forms dense stands with drooping branches.

The heavy-scented flowers attract insects, especially flies and bees. Wood and bark of this species contain poisonous glycoside that breaks down into benzoic aldehyde (bitter almond oil) and prussic acid. These compounds cause a strong smell and taste which act as an effective defence against herbivory. Despite this, caterpillars of bird-cherry ermine (Yponomeuta evonymellus) often cover trees in white silky web, and eat the leaves.

Black fruits of the bird cherry are bitter-sweet. They can be used for making tasty liqueur, or for dyeing wool as they yield a pale lilac shade. In northernmost Lapland the subspecies borealis dominates. It is hairy and its flowers are mild-scented.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family
Flowers from the same family

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