Prunus microcarpa – Small-Fruited Cherry

28 Feb

Spring is here, and everything is blooming around us. This time we’re walking in the Asia Section. One of the flowering families that attracts the heart and the eye in this section is the Rosaceae family. Today we’re looking at the Small-fruited Cherry.

Back in February, the Common Almond and the Bell-Flowered Cherry bloomed in the garden in white and hot pink. Now it’s time for the small-fruited cherry: it blooms in white to pale pink. This Cherry is a strongly-branching, deciduous shrub, about 1-2 m tall. The flowers (and later, the fruit) are borne on distinct pedicels that are as long as the flower. At the end of the spring, the fruit will develop: small cherries, about 1 cm each. This shrub grows mainly on dry stony and pebbly mountain slopes. It originates in Central to Western Asia – from Afghanistan to Turkey, including the Caucasus. This area is also called the Irano-Turanian phytogeographical region and our Asia section represents it.

This is a useful shrub: the fruit – its cherries – can be eaten, though one must take care and not swallow the seeds, as they contain small quantities of cyanide, which gives them a bitter flavor. In small quantities, the cyanide can stimulate respiration and improve digestion. But in bigger quantities – it will cause an array of symptoms, the worst of which are respiratory failure leading to death.

The plant is also used in the clothing industry: green dye is produced from the leaves and dark greenish gray dye is produced from the fruit.

The Small-fruited cherry is recorded also in the Jordanian Edom Mountains, but we believe that it is just a long pedicelled form of Prunus prostrate (the famous creeping cherry in Mt Hermon).

The cherry is included today in the genus Prunus – the plum. In the past, it was considered a separate genus – Cerasus.

There are many cherry species in the world, and in the East-Asia countries their blossom period is celebrated in special festivals. The most recognized festival is the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival – but in other countries, such as China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and others there are also cherry blossom festivals and celebrations. The cherry bloom symbolizes the circle of life, the regeneration and renewal of nature that comes at the end of winter.

March is a wonderful time to visit the garden – you can see Rosaceae trees and shrubs in bloom, as well as many other local flowers. You are all welcome to visit the Botanical garden and enjoy it!

Written and photographed by: Yael Orgad and Ori Fragman-Sapir, March 2019

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