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A deciduous tree, with strong, rather acrid-smelling bark, from 30 to over 50 ft high, of open, rather gaunt habit when young; the branchlets usually covered at first with a fine down, sometimes quite glabrous. Leaves oval or obovate, 3 to 5 in. long, 11⁄2 to 21⁄2 in. wide, pointed at the end, mostly rounded or slightly heart-shaped at the base, finely toothed, dull dark green above, glabrous beneath or with tufts of down in the vein-axils beneath; stalk glabrous, with two or more glands, 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long. Flowers fragrant, white, 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 in. wide, borne on drooping or spreading racemes 3 to 6 in. long, and from 3⁄4 to 11⁄4 in. through, which terminate short leafy shoots; calyx with five shallow, rounded, often glandular lobes. Fruits round, 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 in. in diameter, black, harsh and bitter to the taste.
The bird cherry is widely spread over the northern part of the Old World, extending in one or other of its forms from the British Isles to Japan. It is a very hardy tree, and not particular as to soil. Whilst the typical form may give place in gardens to such varieties as ‘Plena’ and ‘Watereri’, it is itself very charming when planted in thin woodland. The named varieties are best propagated by budding on seedlings of the type in July. The tree has little economic value, although the timber, when available, is valued by cabinet-makers, and the fruit (according to Loudon) has been used to flavour brandy and home-made wines. It flowers in May.
var. commutata – This also comes into leaf much earlier than does the typical variety.
cv. ‘Watereri’. – This has reached 88 × 61⁄4 ft at Hergest Croft, Herefordshire (1985).
Stems dark purple; young leaves coppery purple, later dark green, purplish beneath. Flowers pale pink.
P. padus var. rotundifolia Hort. ex Koehne
P. grayana Hort., not Maxim