Cherry Berry: Are Cherries Berries?
Cherries are one of the most beautiful and delicious fruits one might ever have eaten. Looking at its deep red color, long, delicate, slender pedicel, fairly firm yet crusty flesh, and a single stone (seed), one might think every time while eating them whether cherries are berries or some other class of fruits.
Published: May 26, 2022.
What are Berries?
One will be surprised to hear that fruits that are commonly called berries, such as mulberry, raspberry or blackberry, and also cherries, are not actually berries, but bananas, grapes, pumpkins, eggplants, cucumbers, and oranges are! So, what are berries actually?
Well, the definition of berries is quite complicated. As mentioned in Live Science, Judy Jernstedt, a University of California professor of plant sciences says that the confusion in berry nomenclature occurred because some fruits are called ‘berries’ thousands of years before scientists presented an exact definition for the word.
Generally, people believe that berries are small, soft fruits that can be picked off plants. However, this belief is far from the scientific definition.
Scientifically, a berry is a fruit that has pulp and seeds, together known as ‘pericarp’ which in turn subdivided into three distinct layers, viz. exocarp or outer skin, mesocarp or middle layer, and endocarp or innermost layer that holds the seeds.
Thus, a grape’s outer skin is the exocarp, its fleshy middle is the mesocarp and the jelly-like inner part that holds the seeds makes the endocarp, says the professor. Other berries, such as watermelon and banana too have the same 3-layered structure, although their exocarps are a little harder and take the form of a rind and a peel respectively.
The mesocarp is actually the part of the fruit that is generally eaten, for example, the delicious white part of a plum or an apple.
Endocarp is the layer that envelopes the seeds. In stone fruits, it’s called stone. In several fruits, it’s the membrane that goes unnoticed being very thin, e.g., in bananas.
In citruses, it holds the juicy pulp of the fruit and one doesn’t want to tear it to avoid a sticky mess.
One might wonder if most fruits come with these 3 layers, why are berries different? The answer is that their endocarps are mostly different.
Although not exactly counted, berries usually have thin endocarps and fleshy (and not dry) pericarps. However, this is not a strict rule as citruses and watermelons, although are berries, don’t have thin skins.
Another characteristic of berries is two or more seeds.
Therefore, a cherry that has only one seed is not a berry. In fact, cherries, like other fleshy fruits having thin skin and a middle stone containing a seed, are known as drupes.
Furthermore, to be classified as a berry, a fruit should develop from one flower having one ovary. Blueberry develops from flowers with only one ovary and therefore, blueberry is a true berry.
Thus, eggplants, cranberries, kiwis, peppers, and tomatoes that develop from a flower with a single ovary are also berries.
But plants like raspberry and strawberry develop from flowers with more than one ovary and hence are not berries.
Then What are Cherries?
With all those criteria necessary for a fruit to be a berry, the question arises – what are cherries? As said earlier, cherries are drupes.
But what are drupes? It’s more clear when one sees raspberries which have tiny subunits, each of which develops from an individual ovary. These subunits are known as drupes.
Each drupe consists of a seed. This is the reason why wild blackberries and raspberries are so crunchy. Since these fruits contain so many drupes, they are known as aggregate fruits.
Even a strawberry is an aggregate fruit, but rather than having multiple drupes, it has multiple achenes, the small yellow ovals on the surface of the fruit, each containing a seed.
Drupe is a more specific subcategory of the genus Fruit. Drupes are sometimes also known as stone fruit as they have an outer fleshy layer with thin skin, and characteristically have a pit at the center. These pits or stones are the single seeds of the drupe.
Types of Cherries
It’s useful to know the various types of cherries to understand which cherries to use and when and how to identify them at the grocery store.
Cherries can basically be divided into two categories: sweet (Prunus avium) and tart (or sour) (Prunus cerasus).
Fresh sweet cherries are a great snack and are typically available on the market from May through August.
On the other hand, tart cherries are too sour for many people to eat as a snack; however, they are great for baked items such as cherry pies and also jams and preserves. Since tart cherries don’t travel as well as sweet cherries, they are usually sold canned or frozen.
Even sweet cherries can be used to make baked goods. However, many sweet cherry recipes need acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or vinegar to balance out the sweetness.
It should be remembered that if one wants to replace tart cherries with sweet ones in a recipe or vice versa, they’ll also need to adjust the sugar and any acid.
Further cherries are classified into the following types.
Sweet Cherry Varieties
This is the most common type of sweet, dark cherries found in grocery stores in both fresh and frozen states. It’s sweet, juicy, firm, and heart-shaped, and is full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients.
These are sweet and richly flavored cherries with crispy and juicy flesh. It ripens in early or mid-July.
Also called black cherries, Chelan cherries look similar to Bing cherries but taste milder (still sweet). It’s a hardy variety and ripens early in the season, and is resistant to splits and cracks.
These dark red sweet cherries look similar to Bing cherries, and are heart-shaped and extra-large. Their skin is mahogany-red, the flavor is quite mild and texture is firm.
Named after the highest peak in Washington State, Rainier cherries can be easily identified from their unique yellowish red flesh. They are slightly sweeter than Bing cherries. As their growing season is short, they’re expensive.
As suggested by its name, this variety originated in Logan in Utah, and the fruit is extra-large (larger than Bing and Lambert).
Black Tartarian is an old cultivar in the sweet cherry group that first occurred in Russia and then was introduced to America and England. It’s a popular cherry species for home orchards.
Black Tartarian cherry plant can grow well in full sun and well-drained soil. They are not exactly drought-tolerant but can adapt to drought conditions better than other cherry species. If they grow well, they can produce plenty of robust, dark red, heart-shaped sweet, and juicy fruits.
These are sweet, sour, and tangy-flavored cherries. They are softer than Bing but are still firm and juicy. They are heart-shaped deep red cherries.
Also known as Kordia cherry, Attika cherry is a new, dark, sweet cherry variety that produces long, heart-shaped dark cherries in abundance with a strong sweet flavor.
It’s a mid- to late-season cherry that came to the US from the Czech Republic. It’s known for being resistant to rain-crack and damage while being harvested or transported.
The bright red, chewy cherries that top cakes and Shirley Temples are actually not a special cherry variety, but rather are sweet cherries that are preserved in brine, sweetened, and dyed. Some high-end brands skip dying, so they have a darker color.
Tart Cherry Varieties
Balaton cherries have a dark burgundy color in skin and flesh. Although it comes under the tart cherry group, it’s not exactly sour but has a pleasant sweet and sour flavor.
It originates in Hungary and was introduced in America in 1984. Being large with a firm texture, Balaton cherries are perfect for juice and pies.
These are dark tart cherries native to Italy and usually come jarred or bottled in syrup. They’re a tasty addition to desserts like cheesecake and ice cream and cocktails.
English Morello Cherries
English Morello is a popular tart cherry type in the US. It’s usually kept in jars immersed in light syrup in grocery stores.
These tart, flavorful cherries can be a great addition to baked dishes, preserves, and cocktails. Although their origin is not exactly known, they are believed to be grown in England and then early settlers brought them to America.
They are medium in size and have bright red skin and yellowish juicy pulp. They ripen around 1 week sooner than other varieties which happen in early June.
Montmorency cherries are grown in Michigan and are the most popular tart cherries in the United States. They are typically found in canned or frozen forms, rather than fresh. They are used to make classic tart cherry pies. Tart cherry juice is also made with them.
Dried cherries are dehydrated sour cherries. They are available in both sweetened and unsweetened forms in grocery stores. They can be used in various dishes like trail mix, pecan, and blue cheese salad.
Plus, many other sweet and tart cherry varieties are grown all over the world.
Are Cherries Healthy?
Cherries are widely available in summer. It is this season when markets become full of cherries and one can eat them in abundance. But one might wonder if they are good for their health. Fortunately, the answer is “yes”.
Cherries are not only delicious but also very healthful. They are low in calories and packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients.
Cherries Nutritional Profile
One cup of fresh cherries contains:
Cherries are packed with antioxidants that protect cells from breaking down because of free radicals that may form due to factors like inflammation, smoking, pollution, stress, radiation, or even exercise and normal metabolism.
Some studies have shown that both sweet and tart cherries help reduce cell damage.
May Improve Heart Health
1 cup (154 grams) of sweet, pitted cherries provides 10% of the DV of potassium, a mineral essential for maintaining a regular heartbeat, and helps remove extra sodium from the body, thereby regulating blood pressure.
Cherries are also full of powerful polyphenol antioxidants, such as catechins, flavanols, and anthocyanins, which may keep the heart healthy by reducing inflammation and protecting it against cellular damage.
Potentially Helps Fight Muscle Damage from Exercise
Some studies show that tart cherry juice helps fight muscle damage from workouts.
Possibly Helps in Diabetes
One small study showed that 19 women with diabetes were given tart cherry juice daily for 6 weeks and they lost weight and their blood sugar and blood pressure were reduced.
May Help Prevent Gout and Arthritis Attacks
Some small studies support the claim that cherries may prevent gout attacks. Some studies show that cherries help prevent oxidative stress and reduce inflammation by subsiding inflammatory proteins, which can help decrease arthritis symptoms.
Moreover, they can reduce uric acid levels in the body, thus benefiting gout.
Potentially Helps to Get Better Sleep
Eating sweet or tart cherries may help one get longer and better sleep. The reason behind this might be because cherries contain melatonin, a hormone that’s essential for sleep.
Potentially Improves Brain Health
The anthocyanins that are responsible for the red color of cherries have been associated with better brain health, memory, and thinking. One study has found that drinking cherry juice daily for 12 weeks enhanced memory and verbal fluency in senior people with mild or moderate dementia.
How to Grow Cherries?
Although there are thousands of varieties of cherries, only a few are commonly cultivated. It may take 3 to 5 years for a cherry tree to produce fruit. Dwarf varieties produce fruit a year earlier.
A mature standard-size sweet or tart cherry tree can provide 20 to 60 quarts of fruits per year, whereas a dwarf tree will produce around 10 to 15 quarts.
While deciding which cherry variety to plant for one’s home garden, there are a few considerations to remember.
Sweet Cherries: Prunus avium or sweet cherries are the most popular type of cherries to grow in home gardens.
Among them the most popular varieties Bing, Rainier, and Montmorency are self-sterile i.e., they should be planted in groups of a minimum of 2 to 3 for cross-pollination.
These are usually grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 to 9; however, this may change depending upon the variety.
Steill Cherries: This is a relatively new self-pollinating dwarf cultivar, i.e., it doesn’t need another compatible tree for cross-pollination. This makes the tree an optimal choice for small home gardens with less space.
This variety generally grows in USDA zones 5 to 8, but this may change with the variety.
Tart Cherries: P. cerasus are more commonly grown for preserving or making jams. Tart cherry trees are self-fertile and grow in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 6, but this too may change with the variety.
Most fruit trees also come in “dwarf” form, which typically reaches around 6 feet in height.
How to Plant Cherries
To grow optimally, cherries need air circulation, ample space and water maintenance.
Still, individual climatic requirements may differ within varieties. Bing cherries are supposed to thrive in USDA zones 5 through 9, but Black Tartarian cherries are limited to USDA zones 5 through 7, since they need a longer winter to bear fruit.
It’s better to ask one’s local garden center about which varieties are the best for their particular region.
When to Plant
The grower should plant cherry trees in early spring or late fall (the time when the ground has a higher moisture content and so, is soft).
Choosing the Planting Site
The location of planting should be sunny and spacious, and should have good air circulation. One should be able to space the trees 30 to 40 feet apart.
Dwarf varieties can be grown in large planters with less space between them.
“Semi-dwarf” varieties grow 10 to 15 feet in height, whereas full-size trees fruit trees (usually called “standards”) reach the height of 20 feet or more.
The planting site should not be near big trees or buildings that may cast shadows on the trees.
If the grower’s area receives frost, they should make sure the planting site is on higher ground.
Low-lying areas receive more frost during early spring. Cherry blossoms in growing seasons are very susceptible to frost damage and lower fruit crop.
Sweet cherry varieties bloom earlier than the sour ones and so, are more susceptible to frost damage.
Ideally, cherry trees must get at least 6 hours of sunlight every day.
Cherry needs well-drained soil. The pH of the soil should be 6.0 to 7.0. Per se, light, sandy soil types with good depth are perfect, whereas heavier soils that tend to become waterlogged increase the risk for root and crown rot.
Sweet cherry plants should be spaced 35 to 40 feet apart, sweet dwarf trees 5 to 10 feet apart, tart cherries 20 to 25 feet apart, and tart dwarf trees 8 to 10 feet apart.
If the grower will be planting sweet cherries, they should make sure different varieties will pollinate each other.
To plant trees with standard rootstock, the grower should dig a hole in the ground, of around the size of the root ball. They should keep the graft union, which looks like an elevated scar, a few inches below the soil surface.
When planting trees with dwarf rootstock, the graft union should be several inches above the soil surface. This will prevent the graft union from developing its own roots and circumventing the rootstock.
While planting fan-trained trees, the grower should build the required support before planting. Fans should be planted only 12 to 15 feet apart.
While planting bare-root trees, the grower should spread the roots evenly down the planting hole. Then they should backfill the soil and tamp it down firmly.
After planting, the grower should water their cherry tree every other day for the first week, twice or thrice in the second week, and then continue on a weekly basis all through the remaining first growing season.
Growing Cherries from Cuttings
Semi-hardwood and hardwood cuttings of both sweet and tart cherries can be cultivated to become mature trees and produce fruit.
Semi-hardwood cuttings should be taken from a tree in the summer when the wood is still a bit soft and only partially mature.
Hardwood cuttings should be taken during the dormant season when the wood is mature and hard.
The grower should select a branch that has leaves and 2 to 4 leaf nodes, preferably from a tree that is less than 5 years old. When collecting cuttings from older trees, they should be taken from the youngest branches.
The grower should cut off 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) long sections at a horizontal angle with sharp, sterile pruning shears.
The grower should remove any leaves from the bottom 2/3rd part of the cutting and dip the end into rooting hormone and then plant the cutting into a container. Then they should cover the top of the container with a plastic bag or the bottom cut from a milk jug.
They should place the cuttings in a sunny spot. The temperature should be at least 65-degree F (18 degrees C) and the medium should be kept moist by misting it twice a day.
They should remove the plastic bag or milk jug bottom after 2 to 3 months and check if the cutting is rooted. To check this, they should tug the cutting slightly. If they feel resistance, it’s rooted.
They should allow the cutting to grow till the roots fill the container. Once the roots overgrow the pot, the grower should transfer the cutting to a gallon (3-4 L) container filled with potting soil.
The grower should slowly acclimate the new plant to outdoor temperatures and sun by placing it in shade during the day for around a week before transplanting it.
For transplanting, they should choose a site in full sun and with well-draining soil. They should dig the hole twice as wide as the tree but not deeper.
They should now remove the cherry plant from the container, lift the tree by the root ball while supporting the trunk with the other hand, and place it into the hole. Then they should fill the sides with soil and lightly over the top of the root ball.
They should water the tree to remove any air pockets and continue to fill in until the root ball is covered and the soil level reaches the ground level.
Growing from Pits
Cherries can even be grown from pits from locally grown cherries. However, this process takes longer for fruit production.
The grower should use pits from locally grown cherries or cherries bought from the farmer’s market. They should avoid using pits from cherries bought in grocery stores since they may not be compatible with the climate of the grower’s area.
Preparing the Pits
The grower should save a few pits from locally grown cherries and soak them in warm water for a few minutes which will loosen the rest of the fruit. Then they should clean the pits and set them out on paper towels for around a week, letting them dry out completely.
Then they should transfer them to an airtight container and store them in the fridge for ten weeks.
Then they should take the container out from the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Then they should plant 2-3 pits in a pot with well-draining soil. The containers should be placed indoors and watered consistently to keep the soil moist.
The seedlings will appear. When the soil becomes warm in early spring, it’s time to transplant the seedlings in a permanent spot outdoors.
Waiting for a Long Time
Trees planted from cherry pits take around 7 to 10 years to produce fruit.
Growing from Seeds Directly
By skipping the freezing part, one can even try to grow cherries by sowing the seeds directly in the garden and allowing the seeds to go through a natural stratification process during the winter.
For this, the grower should collect the dried cherry pits and just plant them outside. They should plant a few because some may not germinate.
They should place the seeds 2 inches (5 cm) deep and one foot (31 cm) apart. They should mark the planting sites.
The pits will germinate in the spring. The grower should wait till the seedlings become 8 to 12 inches (20-31 cm) tall and then transplant them to a permanent site in the garden.
They should mulch well around the transplanted seedlings to retain moisture and deter weeds.
How to Take Care?
When it comes to taking care, both sweet and tart cherries need the same type of care.
The grower should water consistently and watch for dry spots. The soil should be kept moist, but it should not be overwatered.
They should apply mulch to retain moisture and control weeds.
They should prune the trees every year in late winter to promote the growth of new fruiting wood. They should not prune in the fall. Properly pruned cherry trees produce better and more fruit.
Diseased branches should be removed. Any branches that have bacterial cankers (a black rough growth also called “black knot”) or brown rot (a light brown fluff on the skin of cherries) must be pruned then and there to prevent spores from spreading further.
After pruning diseased branches, the shears should be washed thoroughly.
They should also drape netting over the trees after they fruit to protect the cherries from birds. For protection from birds, one can even hang inflatable balloons or aluminum tins on the tree branches to scare the birds.
Growers should practice companion planting which can attract pollinators and discourage pests like aphids.
Early in the spring, they should fertilize the trees with a low-nitrogen fertilizer (such as 5-10-10) a few weeks prior to the flowering of the trees.
After this, they should fertilize as required (after checking the soil nutrients with a soil test) until the harvest. They should fertilize after mid-summer since new growth needs time to harden off before fall and winter.
Protection from Pests and Diseases
Western Cherry Fruit Fly
The western cherry fruit fly is a small pest but it causes a lot of damage and is particularly active in the western United States.
They live in the soil as yellowish-brown pupae during the winter and emerge as adult flies in late spring and early summer. Adult flies are smaller than house flies and have black bodies with white stripes. They are weak fliers and often land on the nearest cherry tree.
Fine netting can prevent adult flies from landing on the ripening cherries. But insecticides may be best for controlling this pest.
This is a killer disease caused by the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae pv. syringae.
If there are dark, sunken cankers on young trees, it may be a sign of a bacterial canker. The infected trees release a gummy fluid, leaves wilt and entire limbs may become girdled by the cankers. Eventually, trees may die when the temperature increases.
Unfortunately, there is no solution for bacterial canker. At present, the gardener can only manage this disease.
This can be done by choosing bacteria-resistant cultivars like Regina, Sandra Rose, and Rainier, and bacteria-resistant rootstocks like Colt, preventing injuries (that could let the bacteria enter the tree trunk), painting tree trunks white (to reduce winter injury), and pruning sweet cherry trees only in dry weather, like in summer, instead of rainy spring or fall seasons.
Cherry Leaf Spot
Leaf spots are caused on cherries by a fungus Blumeriella jaapi. The disease is also called “shot hole” or “yellow leaf” disease. It most commonly affects English Morello cherry trees and is considered serious.
The fungus overwinters in dead leaves and then causes apothecia in the spring. To start with the lesions are small, round, and reddish purple, but as the disease progresses, they turn brown and their centers may fall out giving the leaf a ‘shot hole’ appearance.
The shot hole looks more commonly occurs on tart cherries than sweet cherries.
If left untreated, leaf spots can cause fruits to be dwarfed and ripen unevenly. The tree becomes more vulnerable to winter damage, fruit spurs will be lost, fruit buds and fruit will be small, the yield will reduce and the tree will die in the end.
The grower should use fungicides from the petal fall through mid-summer. They should also remove and destroy fallen leaves to remove as many of the spores as possible. A layer of straw mulch can also be added to the ground once all the leaves have been raked up.
The grower should pick the fruit only when they are fully ripe (dark red, yellow, black). The sugar content of the fruits increases a few days prior to full ripening.
The grower can taste a fruit before harvesting. Sweet cherries develop a sweet flavor and their color becomes uniform, whereas tart cherries become soft and juicy when they are ripe.
Growers are likely to pick cherries every other day for a week. They should use pruning shears to clip fruit from the stems instead of pulling, which can damage the fruit. They should take care not to tear off the woody spur because it continues fruiting every year.
If they want to freeze the fruit, they should store them in perforated plastic bags in the fridge.
It’s clear that cherry is not a berry, but a fruit type called a drupe. Its rich flavor and health benefits make it worth growing in one’s home garden. Growing cherries is easy and fun.
Though one has to wait for at least 3 years to get the fruit, the grower is ultimately rewarded with abundant, sweet (or tart), juicy fruits which they can enjoy in various ways.