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Prunus virginiana

Prunus virginiana - Virginian bird cherry, Western choke cherry


Virginian bird cherry from North America is a tall shrub or shrub-like tree, growing naturally from the Pacific coast all the way to the Atlantic. In Canada it is a popular garden shrub, with attractive features throughout the year, like the cherries. When the leaves first break they are reddish in colour, passing through dark slightly shiny green in summer to a beautiful yellow in autumn

Abundant white flowers appear soon after leaf break, about two weeks later than the native bird cherry (P. padus). The fruit, which ripen in late summer, are dark red to almost black, and edible. Mustila obtained a batch of seed in 1992 which had been collected for a fruit improvement project from the best specimens throughout Canada. Some of the resulting shrubs produced abundant flowers and fruits, but the taste was always typical of the species: sour, a trace of bitterness, even astringent. In America the berries are used mainly in jams, juices and pies, but the large, slightly poisonous seeds must be removed first.

In Canada there are selected varieties whose leaves are green on first breaking but gradually change to red or dark red, such as P. virginiana 'Shubert' (often wrongly written in the German way 'Schubert'). There are also forms which have been found among seed-produced plants whose foliage is a clear red when first opening. The black-berried P. virginiana subsp. melanocarpa is worth noting, and there is also a white-berried form.


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