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Cherry: an American tradition for fine furniture.

If the legend holds true, George Washington was a visionary when he chopped down the cherry tree. Cherry has since grown to be one of the most popular furniture woods in U.S. history.

Cherry is considered by many to be in the same class as mahogany. The uses for cherry wood are varied. It is a fine furniture and cabinetry wood, prized for its natural luster and attractive grain. It is also a beautiful carving and turnery wood and is used for sculpture. Cherry is also a popular choice for domestic ware, toys, musical instruments, tobacco pipes, and boat interiors, plus backing blocks for printing plates because of its strength and stability. An excellent veneer, cherry is used for burial caskets, paneling, patterns and gun-stocks.

Prunus serotina, most often known as American black cherry, is a fine furniture wood with a rich warm look well translated into many easily recognized furniture styles. This group of trees' range is wide, growing from Ontario to Florida and from the Dakotas to Texas, extending as far south as Guatemala. The states that lead in the production of cherries for commercial uses include Michigan, Washington, Oregon, Utah, California, New York, Pennsylvania and Idaho.

The largest and virtually only commercially important timber tree of the American species is black cherry. These trees are tall compared with most cherries, growing as high as 100 feet in the southern Appalachians where they thrive. Cherry trees are famous for their wood but also are beautiful, flowering trees. The leaves are oval and shiny green and the white flowers grow in clusters. The name of the tree stems from its fruit, the black cherry, which is one of the least popular products of the tree -- except by birds and other wildlife who thrive on the tiny, bitter, pea-size fruit.

Cherry wood varies in color. The sapwood is creamy pink and is clearly defined from the heartwood. The heartwood is pale-pink brown to a darker red brown, with narrow brown pith flecks. Small gum pockets can cause a problem when the wood is cut. Cherry dries fairly rapidly and has a strong tendency to warp and shrink and with medium movement in service. It exhibits medium bending strengths.

Trees of the species Prunus serotina grow to 40 or 50 feet in 20 years.

International flair

The genus Prunus is not just found in America, though. Cherry trees grow all over Europe and in the mountains of North Africa. Some famous "international" cherries include Prunus avium, which is also called gean, mazzard, cherry, European cherry and common wild cherry and is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. European and American black cherry compare favorably in many aspects, except that the domestic black cherry is much more plentiful in supply. Both American black cherry and European cherry are strong and tough and are similar in strength to yellow birch. European cherry can grow as tall as 80 to 90 feet at times, with diameters as wide as 15 feet.

Prunus padus is another European-grown cherry and Prunus cerasifera is a native of the Balkans. The very fine cabinetry wood, Prunus cerasus is from France and England and goes by the commercial name French cherry.

The genus Prunus has more than 200 species of medium- to small-sized trees -- deciduous and evergreen -- including plums, almonds, apricots, peaches and cherries. The Latin name for cherry is Prunus. The evergreen cherries include Prunus lusitanica of Portugal and Prunus laurocerasus, the cherry laurel. Prunus avium includes the beautiful ornamental trees, wonderful timber that is prized for quality furniture, and fruit that is favored for use in specialty jams and the drink Kirsch.

A tree once divided

Prunus is also Persian for plum. Historically, the genus Prunus, which is part of the rose family, is so diverse that it was once divided.

According to Hugh Johnson, in the book, "Encyclopedia of Trees," "The Prunus branch has such a strangely various bunch of components that it used to be divided into a number of different genera. The cherries then were Cerasus; the almonds and peaches Amygdalus; the plums were Prunus; the apricots were Armeniaca; and bird cherries Padus. The laurels or cherry laurels were Lauro-cerasus." Johnson said the botanists finally decided to put all the trees back into the single genus Prunus because, "They all have a single female organ in a five-petalled flower, and consequently a single-stoned fruit."

Sweet but vulnerable

The cherry trees grown commercially for their tasty fruit are the sweet cherry, the sour cherry and the Duke cherry, a hybrid which is produced from a cross between the sweet and sour varieties. In the United States, the sweet and sour cherry trees are the most important varieties. Sweet cherry trees are Prunus avium and sour cherry trees are Prunus serasus.

Cherry trees are vulnerable to a variety of attackers -- from the birds that eat the fruit and harm the bark to mites, slugs and insects like fruit flies. Cherry trees are also attacked by brown rot, armillaria, root rot, leaf spot and blossom blight. A natural enemy of the cherry tree is also the common furniture beetle.

The trees are in general an easy tree to grow in most soils, preferring soil with not much lime and good drainage. The trees are very susceptible to bad cutting jobs, so to speak, which led one author to coin the horrible pun, tree: "Don't Prunus!"

Family Names

Prunus serotina of the Family Rosaceae

Other Names

American cherry, American black cherry, cabinet cherry, rum cherry, whisky cherry, wild cherry


Average height is 60 feet but some grow to 100 feet with diameters of three or four fee. Average weight is 36 pounds per cubic foot with a specific gravity of 0.58.


The wood works easily with hand and power tools with moderate blunting on cutting edges. Nails, glues, and finishes well. Wood is stiff and strong.
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Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related article; wood
Author:Kaiser, Jo-Ann
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Dec 1, 1994
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