Houzz Logo Print

Flowering Cherry Trees and Fruiting Cherry Trees Explained

8 years ago
last modified: 8 years ago

Many people may be wondering what the difference is between Flowering Cherry Trees and Fruiting Cherry Trees. One produces pretty ornamental blossoms and the other produces fruit for eating, obviously, but besides from that, what is the difference? The following post will explain.

Flowering cherry trees can produce tiny little drupelet fruits, but they are more
fit for the birds than for people to eat. However, with the ornamental varieties
of cherry blossom that are commonly planted, there are multiple good reasons why
most people will rarely or never see the fruit (but I will get back to this
subject later).

Are sweet cherries in the same species as flowering
cherries? I have actually done some research into this, and it turns out the
answer is very complicated, it's not an easy yes or no question, for a variety
of reasons. As it turns out, it IS possible to crossbreed sweet cherries with
flowering cherries, and importantly the second generation offspring will
be fertile (that's not the case when sweet cherries are crossed with sour
cherries). The reason generally has to do with chromosome count. Sweet cherries
have 16 chromosomes. Wild Japanese flowering cherry trees also have 16
chromosomes. However, there are many ornamental cultivars which resulted from
hybridization, which have 24 chromosomes. Black cherries and sour cherries, on
the other hand, have 32 chromosomes. If you crossbreed sweet cherries with sour
cherries, the resulting hybrid tree will have 24 chromosomes, and will still be
able to produce fruit, but the seeds will be sterile (like breeding a horse and
donkey together resulting in a mule, there will be no third

Back to flowering cherry trees...

The pink variety 'kanzan', being a double-flowered variety (2 rows of petals), is sterile, it does produce drupelets or seeds. Particular cultivars of cherry are
propagated by cuttings, so the fact that they cannot produce seed does not
matter. (I believe under certain conditions they might be able to induce these varieties to produce normal single flowers and then they could produce drupelets, but not sure about that)

By far the most common ornamental cherry variety is Yoshino. I
was watching a documentary and there was an elderly Japanese expert who lamented
that Yoshino is not really a natural variety.

Wild cherry blossom trees
in Japan do produce tiny drupelet fruits. They are not very edible (the birds
like eating them though).

The Yoshino cultivar, on the other hand, is a terrible pollinator,
it does not even attract bees. Those little fruits cannot form if there is no
pollination, so you are unlikely to see any drupelets form in a group of cherry trees that are all Yoshino.

What does it really mean for cherry varieties to be within a different "species" (and I use that term loosely), even though they may be capable of freely interbreeding? Well, Yoshino is an excellent example. The Yoshino variety is thought to have resulted from a single hybridization between Edohigan and Oshimazakura. When you crossbreed between different species, the offspring can often be less hardy and resilient, or not as well able to reproduce. The Yoshino variety will typically only live 30-40 years, whereas other cultivars with origins closer to the original wild cherries can live much longer than that. (By the way, sweet cherries can grow to be well over a hundred years old too if they are not grafted) Furthermore, when you have different species it results in some slight degree of incompatibility when they are grafted onto each other. For example, 'kanzan' flowering cherries sold in American nurseries will very often be grafted onto sweet cherry species (P. avium) rootstock to keep it from growing too big.

For anyone who may be interested, I came across a published
reference to Prunus campanulata being crossbred with sweet cherries. Here is the

"Since there is no low-chill germplasm avaialable for sweet
cherry, the only other alternative is to go to another species of cherry for
this trait. Several species have been used in crosses with sweet cherry with
occasional success with Prunus pleiocerasus and Prunus campanulata. In 1957,
W.E. Lammerts made a cross between P. pleiocerasus and P. avium 'Black
Tartarian'. This hybrid is very low-chilling (<200 CU ) but not self
fruitful. The hybrid was repeatedly crossed with sweet cherry and P.
campanulata. In the mid 1970s, the Florida program developed several seedlings
by using mixed pollen (P. campanulata and 'Stella'). All the hybrids had pink
blooms and thus were probably hybrids with P. campanulata. Several of these
seedlings were fruitful. Although the size is still small, this germplasm is
useful for the development of low-chill sweet cherries."
Temperate Fruit
Crops in Warm Climates, edited by Amnon Erez, p216

Prunus campanulata is
the Formosan cherry, called kanhizakura in Japanese. Several hybrids of
kanhizakura with other Japanese flowering cherries exist: kanzakura, okame, and
youkouzakura being the three most prominent. The Formasan cherry is remarkable
for being the only flowering cherry not originally native to Japan, and its
ability to thrive in the Southernmost part of Japan where there is very little

There are nine different varieties of cherry that grow in the wild
in Japan, from which all other cultivated flowering cherry varieties

Yamazakura (Prunus jamasakura)

Oyamazakura (Prunus

Kasumisakura (Prunus verecunda)

Oshimazakura (Prunus

Edohigan (Prunus Ascendens spachiana)

Mamesakura (Prunus

Choujizakura (Prunus apetala)

Minezakura (Prunus

Miyamazakura (Prunus maximowiczii)

Comments (21)

Premier Home Services, Inc
Average rating: 5 out of 5 stars19 Reviews
Loudoun County Complete Turn-Key Contracting Solutions