The Mystic Magic of the Cherry Tree-prunus avium

by | Jul 12, 2018 | Blog

The Secrets of the Trees

We hold our Mystic Magic in the Forest weekend retreats at Rosliston, in Rosliston National Forest, near Burton upon Trent, just south of Derby in the Midlands. Our retreats are themed, but often include an appreciation of nature, walks, the significance of trees in Spiritual and Pagan history, and their myths and legends
.
This blog charts the story, in instalments, of those trees, and all of those to be found at Rosliston, around forty species. Each tree is to be found at Rosliston, but may also be found more widely around Great Britain, Europe, North America and beyond.

In these blogs I describe each tree, explain where they are found, what their history is and how they have related to our history. I also explore the myths and legends surrounding the trees in different countries and from different traditions as well as how herbalists have used them to treat human conditions and how products from the trees have been used throughout history.

I hope that you enjoy reading these tree blogs as much as I have enjoyed writing them for you. If you would like to come and see them in their natural habitat why not join us for one of our retreats?

Cherry -prunus avium

Prunus avium, commonly called wild cherry, sweet cherry, or gean, is a species of cherry, a flowering plant in the rose family, Rosaceae. It is native to Europe, Anatolia, Maghreb, and western Asia, from the British Isles south to Morocco and Tunisia, north to the Trondheimsfjord region in Norway and east to the Caucasus and northern Iran, with a small isolated population in the western Himalaya. The species is widely cultivated in other regions and has become naturalized in North America and Australia

Prunus avium is a deciduous tree growing to 15–32 m (49–105 ft) tall, with a trunk up to 1.5 m (4.9 ft) in 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.

The flowers are produced in early spring at the same time as the new leaves, borne in corymbs of two to six together, each flower pendent on a 2–5 cm (0.79–1.97 in) peduncle, 2.5–3.5 cm (0.98–1.38 in) in diameter, with five pure white petals, yellowish stamens, and a superior ovary; they are hermaphroditic, and pollinated by bees. The ovary contains two ovules, only one of which becomes the seed.

The fruit is bright red to dark purple when mature in midsummer, edible, variably sweet to somewhat astringent and bitter to eat fresh. Each fruit contains a single hard-shelled stone 8–12 mm long, 7–10 mm wide and 6–8 mm thick, grooved along the flattest edge; the seed (kernel) inside the stone is 6–8 mm long.

The fruit are readily eaten by numerous kinds of birds and mammals, which digest the fruit flesh and disperse the seeds in their droppings. Some rodents, and a few birds (notably the hawfinch), also crack open the stones to eat the kernel inside.
All parts of the plant except for the ripe fruit are slightly toxic, containing cyanogenic glycosides.

The leaves provide food for some animals, including Lepidoptera such as the case-bearer moth Coleophora anatipennella.
The tree exudes a gum from wounds in the bark, by which it seals the wounds to exclude insects and fungal infections.

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. In one dated example, wild cherry macrofossils were found in a core sample from the detritus beneath a dwelling at an Early and Middle Bronze Age pile-dwelling site on and in the shore of a former lake at Desenzano del Garda or Lonato, near the southern shore of Lake Garda, Italy. The date is estimated at Early Bronze Age IA, carbon dated there to 2077 BCE plus or minus 10 years. The natural forest was largely cleared at that time.

By 800 BCE, cherries were being actively cultivated in Asia Minor, and soon after in Greece.

As the main ancestor of the cultivated cherry, the sweet 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).

Various cherry cultivars are now grown worldwide wherever the climate is suitable; the number of cultivars is now very large. The species has also escaped from cultivation and become naturalised in some temperate regions, including southwestern Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the northeast and northwest of the United States.

The hard, reddish-brown wood (cherry wood) is valued as a hardwood for woodturning and making cabinets and musical instruments. Cherry wood is also used for smoking foods, particularly meats, in North America, as it lends a distinct and pleasant flavour to the product. The gum from bark wounds is aromatic and can be chewed as a substitute for chewing gum.

Medicine can be prepared from the stalks (peduncles) of the drupes that is astringent, antitussive, and diuretic. A green dye can also be prepared from the plant. Wild cherry is used extensively in

Europe for the afforestation of agricultural land and it is also valued for wildlife and amenity plantings. Many European countries have gene conservation and/or breeding programmes for wild cherry.

In Denmark and Lithuania, the Cherry was said to be the hiding place of demons. The cuckoo is said to need three meals of Cherries before it can stop singing. Regarded as a treat, this is reflected in the saying to take to bites of the cherry”.

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