Cherry trees are one of the most popular fruit trees grown around the world. Both sweet and tart cherry varieties produce the familiar red fruit that can be eaten fresh or used in pies, jams, juices and numerous recipes. But have you ever wondered exactly how these trees actually produce cherries?
It’s a fascinating process that starts with spring blossoms and relies on pollinators like bees to eventually form the ripe cherry fruit we love to eat by summer.
Let’s take a look at the steps involved in how do cherry trees produce fruit:
What Types of Cherry Trees Produce Edible Fruit?
There are two main types of cherry trees that produce the cherries we eat:
- Sweet cherry trees – Scientifically known as Prunus avium, this is the variety people generally think of first. Sweet cherries are the large, sweet, red cherries often eaten fresh and used in desserts. Popular sweet cherry varieties include Bing, Rainier, and Sweetheart.
- Sour cherry trees – Also called tart cherry trees, these are scientifically known as Prunus cerasus. Sour cherries are smaller with a tart, bright flavor. Common sour cherry varieties include Montmorency and Morello. Sour cherries are frequently used in pies, preserves, juices and savory dishes.
- Hybrids – There are also some hybrid varieties crosses between sweet and sour cherries. These can have a range of sweet to tart flavors.
All these trees produce white or pink flowers in spring, and bees play an essential role in pollinating the flowers to eventually produce seeded fruits.
Cherry Tree Flowers
In early spring when temperatures begin warming, flowering cherry trees put on an impressive display. The blossoms emerge right on the bare branches before the leaves.
- Cherry flowers are typically white or light pink with five petals each
- Bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinating insects are highly attracted to them
- The flowers contain both male and female reproductive parts (known as perfect flowers)
Once pollinated by bees or other carriers, these pretty flowers can develop into the fruit. But first pollination must occur.
Pollination and Fertilization
In order for a cherry flower to produce fruit, pollination and fertilization must take place. Here is the sequence of events:
- Pollen from the anthers (male parts) of the cherry blossoms is carried by bees and other pollinators to the female pistil parts of other blossoms. This transfer is key for cross-pollination.
- The pollen then fertilizes the ovules in the ovary of the pistil.
- With the egg cell now fertilized, cell division begins rapidly and seeds start to form along with surrounding fruit flesh.
Note: Some cherry tree varieties are self-pollinating while others require cross-pollination between different cultivars. But even self-pollinating ones will benefit greatly from bee activity and cross-pollination which increases fruit production.
From Flower to Green Fruit
Once the female ovules are fertilized and seeds begin developing, the other flower parts transform as well:
- The ovary at the base of the flower starts enlarging into a small green fruit. This will become the sweet, fleshy part we eat – scientifically called the pericarp.
- The ovules inside form the seeds.
- The stem, leaves, and rest of the tree transport vital nutrients and sugars to nourish this growing young fruit.
It only takes about a month to progress from initial flower to very small green cherry fruit set on the branches. These immature fruits will continue increasing in size over the next couple months.
The Cherry Fruit Ripening Process
That small green fruit formed after pollination now undergoes some dramatic changes on its way to becoming a ripe red cherry:
- The chlorophyll in the skin starts breaking down. This reveals other colorful plant pigments.
- Anthocyanins – a type of plant pigment – accumulate and give many sweet cherries their bright red hue. Sour cherries may turn a darker red or even purple shade.
- Inside the fruit, sugars concentrate while organic acids and tannins decline. This results in ripening cherries becoming sweeter and more flavorful.
- A ripening enzyme called pectin methylesterase increases. This helps the flesh soften while still staying juicy.
- The overall increase in sugars paired with color change signals when cherries have reached maturity 30-80 days from first flowering. This range depends greatly on the particular cherry tree type and cultivar.
When the cherries turn their deep, vibrant color and detach easily from the stems with a slight tug, they’re ready for harvest.
Harvesting Ripe Cherries
To collect your crop of delicious ripe cherries:
- Pick by hand – For small home harvests, carefully hold the cherry fruit in one hand and the stem in the other. Gently twist to remove. Take care not to tear the spur or branches. Place picked cherries gently into shallow containers.
- Commercial harvesting often utilizes specialized cherry picking machines. These shake the tree limbs and catch falling fruit onto conveyor belts without bruising.
No matter what method is used, avoid leaving fruit on trees too long once ripe. This can lead to:
- Cracking or splitting – Making them vulnerable to rot and pests
- Becoming overripe – Resulting in fermentation and decline in quality
- Attracting birds, insects, deer, and other wildlife to feast – Reducing your usable harvest
Afterpicking, cherries should be kept cool. Refrigerate ripe cherries as soon as possible after harvest.
Storing and Enjoying Ripe Cherries
To best preserve freshness and flavor of your yield:
- Refrigerate ripe cherries right away at around 32-35° F
- Try to eat cherries within 3-5 days for highest quality
- Before eating, rinse gently and pat dry with a paper towel
- Avoid washing before storage as moisture encourages mold growth
Then you get to enjoy their sweet flavors! Eat fresh or incorporate into all kinds of delicious foods:
- Fruit salads
- Cakes and pastries
- Jams and jellies
- Juices and smoothies
- Sauce and glazes for meat
- Preserves like brandy cherries
The options are nearly endless!
Key Takeaways on Cherry Fruit Production
In summary, here is an overview of the key steps in how cherry trees produce fruit:
- Spring flowering – Cherry tree blossoms emerge and attract pollinators like bees
- Pollination – Bees and other carriers move pollen from flower to flower
- Fertilization – Pollen fertilizes ovules to form seeds and surrounding fruit flesh
- Fruit growth – Fertilized ovaries swell into small green cherry fruits
- Ripening – Over weeks, chlorophyll disappears, anthocyanins and sugars accumulate, and color intensifies signaling ripeness
- Harvest – Ripe red cherries are picked by hand or machines
- Enjoyment – Fresh eating or use in array of sweet recipes!
The natural progression from beautiful spring flowers to sweet summer cherries is fascinating. With the right environmental conditions like chill hours, sufficient sunlight, and bee activity for pollination, backyard and orchard cherry trees can provide bountiful harvests.
I hope this gives you a helpful overview of the stages involved for how cherry trees produce fruit. Let me know if you have any other cherry or fruit tree questions!