Bird Cherries in the Pacific Northwest

Here are pictures of two bird cherry thickets that have established in full sun on a small field between some apartments and a shopping mall in Oregon City.

At the core of the largest thicket is a large bird cherry, which is most likely the source the other seedlings and many of the root suckers around it. In both pictures notice the small saplings (around 4-7 ft. (1.2-2 m.) high) both within the thicket and in full sun in the open field. This indicates a species able to thrive both in deep shade and full sun.

A chart detailing comparitive identification of the three commonest cherries of the Pacific Northwest follows the pictures. Another picture of a large bird cherry follows the chart.

Characteristics Comparison for Cherries in the Pacific Northwest

This covers the three most common species found. The small picture is Prunus avium

Bird Cherry, Fruit Cherry
Prunus avium
Eurasian, introduced
Bitter Cherry
Prunus emarginata mollis
Choke Cherry
Prunus virginianum demissa
Leaves Average length about 5 in. (13 cm), and about half that wide; coarse teeth; strong central vein; usually some red fall color except in deepest shade. Average length around 2.5 in. (6 plus cm), narrow, 1/3 to 1.5 in. (1-4 cm) wide; finely toothed; pubescent below and on leaf stems; yellow fall color. Average length nearly 3 in. (7.5 cm) long, 1 to 2 in. (2.5-5 cm) broad; finely toothed; dark green above, pale and pubescent below; yellow fall color.
and Fruit
Average more than one in. (2.6 cm) wide, in few flowered clusters (usually less than 5) before the leaves. Fruit large, variable, usually red, to 7/8 in. (2.25 cm), few to a cluster. 5 to 12 1/3 to 1/2 in. (.8 to 1.25 cm) flowers in a roundish to flat topped cluster, opening with or just before the leaves. Fruit to 1/2 in. (1.25 cm) in small clusters, bright red aging to black. Blossoms in long narrow racemose clusters of 15 to 30 1/3 to 1/2 in. (.8 to 1.25 cm) flowers, opening after the leaves. Fruit to 1/3 in. (.8 cm) in drooping clusters, bright red aging to black.
Large, can exceed 50 ft. (15 m.), European references state up to 100 ft. (30 m.), dominant central trunk, often strongly branched when in open; twigs thick and brittle. Trunk to 5 ft. (1.5 m.) in diameter. Bark reddish. Reproduces by seed and root suckers. Very shade tolerant and can crowd out native trees and shrubs. The fruit-bearing orchard tree. Ecologically a climax species. Medium sized, dominant central trunk, up to 50 or rarely 60 ft. (15-18 m.); branches are light, pliable; trunks to 10 in. (25 cm). Root suckers can produce thickets. Bark reddish when young but grey on oldest stems. Primarily sun-loving, can shade out in Northwest forest conditions. A pioneer species especially on moist soils. Short lived. Ecologically a secessional species. Suckering, usually shrubby, sometimes treelike up to about 18 or rarely 40 ft. (5.5-12 m.), branches light, trunks to 12 in. (30 cm), usually smaller, often thicket forming. Bark greyish, but reddish when young. Primarily sun-loving, can shade out in Northwest forest conditions. Ecologically an edge or ecotone plant.

Large bird cherry competing with bigleaf maple

All material copyright 2009 by Bryon Boyce