Click HERE to read how Sufi masters use cherries to illustrate a point.

A world of memory
returns to me when I see
blossoming cherries

--Matsua Basho (1644-1694), from The Knapsack Notebook

When he was by, the birds such pleasure took,
That some would sing, some other in their bills
Would bring him mulberries and ripe-red cherries

--Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, ll. 1101-3

Be careful! Be careful!
Of the cherry tree by the well
You're drunk with sake!
--Ome Shushiki (1668-1725)

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(genus Prunus)

Ah the fabled cherry--the poetic color of luscious lips, and just as sweet. It started out in West Asia (perhaps the Persia-Armenia region) and in two varietals from which all cultivated cherries are descended: Prunus avium (sweet) and Prunus cerasus (sour).

Sweet cherries had spread to Ancient Greece and the Mediterranean by 300 BCE, for Theophrastus mentions them. And Pliny the Elder (1st century AD) mentions that some 8 varieties of cherries were being cultivated in Italy--and that the Romans were spreading them as far north as Britain. The British, in turn, carried it to the New World in the 17th century (Beyond the huge crops in Michigan, California, Oregon, and Washington, American wild cherries include the chokecherry, the pin cherry, and the wild black cherry. Sour cherries have spread even farther north, and are a speciality of Germany and Scandanavia.

Today it is estimated that some 900 sweet varieties (ranging in color from yellow to black) and some 300 sour varieties are being grown. Most sweet cherries will produce fruit only after they've been cross-pollinated--honey bees usually do the leg work, carrying pollen from a sweet cherry of another variety. Sours are mostly self-fertile. These are the main classes:


  • Amarelles (light colored)--including mascaras or maraschinos
  • Morellos or griottes (black in color)--made into kirsch
  • Mazzards (small black fruits)
  • Geans (soft, juicy flesh)
  • Bigarreaus (firm, dry flesh)--including the "white" Napolean, the Bing, and the Ranier
  • Dukes (originally grown in Médoc, France, when it came to England it was converted to the homophone "May Duke," later abbreviated further)
So many poems--and paintings--that use the striking imagery of the cherry...for love, for color, for sweetness, for analogy, for spring and renewal. Thomas Campion's mistress has "a garden in her face,/ Where roses and white lilies grow;/ A heav'nly paradise is that place,/ Wherein all pleasant fruits do flow./ There cherries grow, which none may buy/ Till 'Cherry ripe' themselves do cry" (Fourth Book of Airs, 1617).

Then there's Robert Herrick's poem, "Cherry-ripe" (1648):

Cherry-ripe, ripe, ripe, I cry,
Full and fair ones; come and buy.
If so be you ask me where
They do grow, I answer: There,
Where my Julia's lips do smile;
There's the land, or cherry-isle,
Whose plantations fully show
All the year where cherries grow.

Or how about A. E. Housman's Shropshire Lad (1887):

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.