Prunus divaricata Ledeb is recognized as distinct in various older works (see Flora of the USSR[
]. Some more modern works have placed it as a variety of Prunus cerasifera (as Prunus cerasifera divaricata (Ledeb.) L.H.Bailey) (see the GRIN database). Most botanists are now placing it as a synonym of Prunus cerasifera (see Flora of N. America[
], a treatment we are following here.
The taxonomic history of Prunus is long and complicated, in part due to the economic value of its fruit crops and also the ease with which some species hybridize. Here, Prunus is circumscribed in its broad sense based on the argument that when viewed on a worldwide scale, the morphologic discontinuities among the segregate genera diminish and they overlap with one another. Included here are species that have at times been placed in the genera Amygdalus, Armeniaca, Cerasus, Laurocerasus, Padus, and Persica.
At the species level, Prunus has been the object of the usual combining and splitting common among taxonomists with different philosophies and opinions. In particular, over-reliance on the indument of various vegetative and floral parts has led to the naming of numerous species and infraspecific taxa. Similarly, too much has been made of fruit colour and palatability in naming taxa of Prunus. It is very likely that, as molecular and genetic data are analyzed and, more importantly, correlated with morphological data, circumscriptions will be redrawn and the number of Prunus species will be reduced[
Cerasus myrobalanos hort.
Padus racemosa (Lam.) C.K.Schneid.
Prunus caspica Kovalev & Ekimov
Prunus divaricata Ledeb.
Prunus domestica cerasifera (Ehrh.) Arcang.
Prunus domestica myrobalan L.
Prunus mirobalanus Poit. & Turpin
Prunus monticola K. Koch
Prunus myrobalana (L.) Loisel.
Prunus pissardii Carrière
Prunus sogdiana Vassilcz.
Common Name: Cherry Plum
Prunus cerasifera is a deciduous shrub or a small tree with a round-headed canopy; it can grow 4 - 10 metres tall[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food. It is sometimes cultivated as a fruit crop, and is also often grown as an ornamental, where it can be used to form a hedge or shelterbelt. It is often used as a rootstock for the cultivated plum[
Often grown as a fruit crop or an ornamental, it has escaped from cultivation and become naturalized in some countries,, including Australia, New Zealand and the USA, where it is considered to be invasive[
The plant (especially the seed and young shoots) contains cyanogenic glycosides, especially amygdalin and prunasin. When injested, these compounds break down in the digestive tract to release cyanide. Used in small quantities in both traditional and conventional medicine, this exceedingly poisonous compound has been shown to stimulate respiration, improve digestion, and promote a sense of well-being[
]. It is also claimed by some to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer - though this claim has been largely refuted.
In larger concentrations, however, cyanide can cause gasping, weakness, excitement, pupil dilation, spasms, convulsions, coma and respiratory failure leading to death[
The fruits and flowers of most members of this genus generally have low or very low concentrations of this toxin, though the seeds and young shoots can contain much higher levels.
The levels of toxin can be detected by the level of bitterness:- for example sweet tasting almond seeds are a major food crop and are often eaten in quantity, whilst bitter tasting almond seeds are used as a flavouring (in marzipan for example) but are not usually eaten on their own.
In general, it can be considered safe to eat any fruit or seed from species in this genus that either have a sweet flavour or are slightly bitter. Great caution should be taken, however, if the flavour is moderately to very bitter[
W. Asia? Original habitat is obscure. Often planted in hedgerows in Britain but rarely naturalized.
Not known in a truly wild situation.
|Other Uses Rating||
|Cultivation Status||Cultivated, Ornamental, Wild
Prunus cerasifera is very cold-hardy and can tolerate temperatures down to about -25°c when dormant[
]. It requires a hot summer in order to fruit well and often does not perform well in areas with cool summers. Nor does it thrive in mild winter areas, where it can be excited into growth too early and is then susceptible to damage from late frosts.
Requires a well-drained moisture retentive soil[
]. Succeeds in light shade but fruits better in a sunny position[
]. Thrives in a loamy soil, doing well on limestone[
]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers some chalk in the soil but apt to become chlorotic if too much is present[
]. Succeeds in poor soils[
]. Established plants are drought tolerant[
A very ornamental plant[
]. It is sometimes also cultivated for its edible fruit, especially in the eastern parts of its range[
]. Unfortunately the fruit is not often borne in large quantities in Britain[
], but large crops are produced every 4 years or so[
]. There are some named varieties[
The purple-leaved, pink-flowered cultivars of Prunus cerasifera are especially popular for ornamental use[
Most members of this genus are shallow-rooted and will produce suckers if the roots are damaged[
Plants in this genus are notably susceptible to honey fungus[
Fruit - raw or cooked in pies, tarts, jams etc[
]. The size of a small plum with a thin skin and a nice sweet flavour[
]. The flesh is somewhat mealy but is also juicy[
]. In Middle Asia and Caucasus considerable quantities are processed to preserves, jam, pie and 'lavas' (fruit-flesh dried in thin layers). The purple-red to yellow, ovoid, ellipsoid, or globose fruit is about 15 - 30mm in diameter and contains one large seed[
]. It can hang on the tree until late autumn[
Seed - raw or cooked. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter - see the notes above on toxicity.
The plant is used in Bach flower remedies - the keywords for prescribing it are 'Desperation', 'Fear of losing control of the mind' and 'Dread of doing some frightful thing'[
]. It is also one of the five ingredients in the 'Rescue remedy'[
Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, all members of the genus contain amygdalin and prunasin, substances which break down in water to form hydrocyanic acid (cyanide or prussic acid). In small amounts this exceedingly poisonous compound stimulates respiration, improves digestion and gives a sense of well-being[
The plant makes quite a good windbreak hedge, though it cannot stand too much exposure[
]. The dark-leaved cultivars 'Nigra' and 'Pissardii' are often used[
A green dye can be obtained from the leaves[
A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit[
Often used as a rootstock for the cultivated plums, giving them a semi-dwarfing habit[
Because of its drought resistance; adaptation to poor soils; and high variability in ripening time and growth vigour, Prunus cerasifera is obtaining an increasing importance for breeding work, also in combination with other diploid stone fruits as Asian plum, apricot and peach[
An oil is obtained from the seed[
Seed - requires 2 - 3 months cold stratification and is best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe[
]. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible[
]. Protect the seed from mice etc. The seed can be rather slow, sometimes taking 18 months to germinate[
]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow them on in a greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year.
Cuttings of half-ripe wood with a heel, mid summer in a frame.
Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame.
Layering in spring.
Division of suckers in the dormant season. They can be planted out direct into their permanent positions.