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Bird cherry identification and control: Prunus avium

Bird cherry identification and control

Prunus avium, Rosaceae


Bird cherry, also called sweet cherry and mazzard cherry, is a deciduous tree with smooth, peeling gray-brown or red-brown bark with prominent horizontal lenticels (stripes around the tree trunk). Generally grows to about 50 feet tall with a broadly rounded crown. The leaves are alternate, 2-5 inches long, oval and pointed at the tip, finely serrate (toothed on leaf edges), dull green above and somewhat downy beneath, with 2 conspicuous red glands at the top of the petiole (leaf stalk). Flowers are white, fragrant, 1 inch across, in a loose cluster of 3-5 flowers, each with 5 petals, numerous stamens and 1 pistil (like other wild cherry flowers). Flowers appear slightly before leaves emerge. The fruit is a small sweet cherry (0.5 to 1 inch across), starting yellow then turning red to almost black when ripe in early summer.

It is widely grown as an ornamental cherry tree and is a parent of many of the sweet cherry cultivars sold for fruit production. It has spread widely throughout Washington and much of North America, most often found in forest edges, urban woodlands, fields and vacant lands. It has the potential to crowd out native shrubs and small trees.

It is considered an invasive plant in King County and is on the King County Weeds of Concern list. Control is recommended where natural resources are being protected or as part of a stewardship plan. Contact the noxious weed program for advice on control methods.

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Related information

Related agencies

Program offices are located at 201 S. Jackson St., Suite 600, Seattle, WA 98104. To contact staff, see the Noxious Weed Control Program Directory, send an email, or call 206-477-WEED (206-477-9333).