National Geographic : 1951 Sep
"Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry . . IN AN average year Americans consume fresh or in pies, candies, preserves, bever ages, and assorted drugstore delicacies about 200,000 tons of cherries. Round, plump, and abundant-a single tree has been known to yield 2,000 pounds of fruit in one year cherries have for centuries been looked on as the symbol of ripeness and sweetness. Species of cherries are plentiful throughout the northern Temperate Zone-from Japan, throughout Asia and Europe, to our own Pacific Coast. Asiatic species have contrib uted the famous flowering cherries of Japan, now flourishing and famous in our own Capi tal and gaining popularity as ornamentals in many American gardens and parks. The fruit of a few American species is gath ered and used to a limited extent, particularly the chokecherries and sand cherries in the Plains and Rocky Mountain States. The two species that have furnished our cherries of commerce, however, both appear to have origi nated in the area of Asia and Europe centering about the Dardanelles and extending from the Caspian Sea in Asia westward through the Balkan countries of Europe. Cherry Pits Found in Stone Age Caves The sweet cherries, Prunus avium, had spread throughout temperate Europe before the beginning of civilization there. Com monly known as bird cherries, this species, a favorite food of birds, had reached Britain and western continental Europe before the history of those countries was recorded. Pits of sweet cherries found in the remains of cave habitations of central Europe indicate that these fruits were gathered and used there as early as the Stone Age. The sour, or pie cherry, P. cerasus, seems to have spread more slowly, and perhaps mainly through human agencies. Apparently the earliest reference to cherries is by Theophrastus, the Greek "Father of Botany," who described the trees and fruit about 300 B. c. Pliny, in Italy in the first century, de scribed 10 kinds of cherries. These appear to have been types, rather than varieties as we regard them today. He also referred to the cherry as having been taken to Britain. An other Roman, Marcus Terentius Varro, in his book on farming written about 50 B. c., discussed grafting of cherries, and by implica tion indicated that neither cherry culture nor grafting were new when he wrote. Thus cherry culture was apparently under way in a number of European countries by the beginning of the Christian Era. Little further progress seems to have occurred until the emergence of Europe from the Dark Ages, in the 15th and 16th centuries. Not until the latter century did variety names appear. Cherries from Europe were introduced into America as soon as the English, French, and Dutch settlements were made. If cherries were planted by the Spaniards in the West Indies and Florida, they did not thrive. But in the cooler climates, from Newfoundland to Virginia, they were growing shortly after the first settlements. Reference is made to the cultivation of the Red Kentish cherry in Massachusetts in 1629, only nine years after the Pilgrims landed. By the middle of that century, cherries, in common with other Temperate Zone fruits of Europe, were widely distributed in the Colo nies. According to tradition, if not fact, one early American farmer, Augustine Washing ton, valued his cherry trees only slightly less than the veracity of his son George. Cherries advanced westward with the settle ment of the country. They were first taken to California by the Spanish missionaries when that State was a part of Mexico. Cherries were a part of the covered wagon load of named fruit varieties that pioneer horticultur ist Henderson Luelling took to Oregon in 1847. This resulted in the start of the great sweet-cherry industry in the western States. The cherry thrives best in moderate, rather cool climates. The sour cherry is more toler ant of both summer rainfall and winter cold than is the sweet. The latter cracks and rots when rains occur near ripening time. As a result of this, the principal centers of sweet cherry production are in the States west of the Rockies where summers are dry and win ters are generally moderate. Sour cherries are produced throughout the northern half of the United States, except in the coldest areas of the Plains States. Great est production is around the Great Lakes, with Michigan, New York, and Wisconsin leading. Neither the sweet nor the sour varieties are adapted to the hot, often humid conditions in the southern half of the country. First Bing Cherries Were American Our important sour cherry varieties all represent direct importations from Europe; no important varieties have been developed in this country. On the other hand, several of our sweet varieties, including the large, nearly black Bing and Lambert, which are the most important fresh market kinds, origi nated here as chance seedlings. Sour cherries are mainly marketed canned or frozen. The major use is in pies and pre serves. Sweet cherries are popular in mid summer on fresh-fruit markets, the richly flavored fruits being highly esteemed. They are also canned commercially, and are the principal source of maraschino cherries.