Bird cherry, otherwise known as (Prunus padus), is a deciduous species and is native to the Britain and large parts of Europe.
You will often find the tree growing in wet woodlands, streams and by river banks. It is closely related to Prunus avium (wild cherry), but are easy to distinguish between the two.
Identifying a Bird Cherry Tree
A fully grown tree will reach a height of about 25m. The bark is grey to brown in colour and feels smooth but peels with age and turns the surface rough; it also produces a funny smell, which is unpleasantly bitter. The twigs are dark brown in colour but have light markings on them; shoots have small hairs on them but fall off with age.
The leaves are egg-shaped and have small hairs on the tufts underneath the veins. Dissimilar to wild cherry, the leaf edges have sharp grooves and are pointed at the tips, they also have a few glands near the leaf base nest to the stalk.
Cherry trees have hermaphrodite reproductive systems; this means that the male and female counterparts are found in the same flower. The flowers are white with five petals and have a strong scent, they measure around 8-15cm in width and appear during April.
Insects pollinate the flowers and they develop into black to dark red cherries. Dissimilar to wild cherry, the bird cherry doesn’t produce any suckers from the base.
Interesting fact: some people in parts of Yorkshire call the bird cherry ‘wild lilac’ because of its spikes of white coloured flowers that appear in spring.
Bird Cherry Tree Wildlife
The wildlife associated with the bird cherry is similar to that of the wild cherry, the flowers are a good source of pollen and nectar for small insects and bees, the cherries get eaten by birds of many species including song thrush and also mammals such as the wood mouse, badger and dormouse.
Caterpillars from many spices of moth eat the foliage including the brimstone, short cloaked moth and the orchard ermine. Conversely, the leaves are poisonous to livestock especially goats.
How we use Bird Cherry
Historically, cherries were grown to produce fruit and wood for the making of vine poles and cask hoops.
The timber is much lighter with a finer texture than wild cherry.
Threats, Pests and Diseases
Like most native trees in Britain, the bird cherry is vulnerable to cankers which can deface a tree and usually kill it. If you prune the tree at the wrong time of year it can cause silverleaf disease, which turns the leaves silver and can also kill the tree if left untreated. The cherry black fly is another pest that can cause dieback.