Shady cherry tree
Published on: Sunday, October 11, 2020
By: Eskay Ong
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CHERRY TREES are known under different common names in different regions. In some countries in the west, it is known as Jamaica Cherry Tree while in Malaysia, it is commonly called Malayan Cherry Tree. 

It is also sometimes called Jamfruit Tree as the fruits serve perfectly well in the preparation of table jams. But overall, it is easiest to identify it as Ornamental Cherry Tree or just plain Shady Cherry Tree due its very good shade that its canopy provides.

Known botanically as Muntingia calabura, cherry trees are basically large shrubs and can be grown as small trees with heights that may reach eight to 12 metres. They have very thick, broad and nearly flat-topped crowns thus creating an almost perfect umbrella-shaped canopy, and with that, its accompanying dense and cool shade beneath is heaven on earth for tired minds and bodies to take a quick snooze. 

Leaves of the cherry tree are lanceolate in shape with pointed tips and toothed margins. Leaf laminae are almost always unevenly divided between the central midrib with leaf blades that come in a slightly dull green colour. 

Young leaves especially those at the distal ends are always of a light to pale green but these progressively change as they age.

Cherry tree flowers are about 2cm in diameter each of which carry five white petals with a bunch of stamens strategically positioned in the middle of each flower. Most of the flowers are borne singly but some come in small clusters of two to four flowers in each cluster. 

After the flower petals have dropped, the sepals stay on together with tiny little roundish fruitlets that become visible as they continue to grow and develop into round mature berries.

Originating in tropical America, they have now spread all over the world and are so well-established and naturalised in their new abodes that many have thought them to be local species. 

The spread of the species is much boosted by the fondness of birds and bats in feeding on the ripe fruits and then ejecting the undigested seeds all over the place, sometimes over vast distances. Humans too play a significant role in dispersing the planting material of cherry trees. 

Decades ago when there were no mobile phones, internet cafes, sleazy joints or unhealthy dens, or hideouts for unsavoury activities, children tend to gather under the cool shade of cherry trees playing stone-age games such as 5-stones, hop-step-and-jump, pocket and ground marbles, catching fighting spiders and fishes, and other nocturnal and semi-nocturnal activities, and so on. 

And climbing the shady tree is a must-do activity because anyone who could pluck the ripe cherries off the tree could have them plonked into their mouth where just a single bite or two could release the sweet, fragrant juice and pulp of the berry. 

It was the fun of their lives which, I believe, most of them who are still around today would still reminisce with fondness and nostalgia the bygone joyous and carefree moments of their youth. 

Of course, all of them must have the friendly cherry tree to thank for, for providing the cool shade and the sweet juicy fruits, as well as the environment for friendship to be well-bonded in what is known today as BFF, meaning best friend forever.

Growing the cherry tree is an easy job. It has many plus points when grown on its own or in mixed plantings. 

The latter scheme is usually pieced together with an assortment of other ornamentals of various heights, colours or sizes, and making sure that the negative effects of heavy shading by the canopy are not deleterious to the well-being of the other plants.

Mixed plantings can be set in closely spaced clusters or if the area is large enough, the trees can be set further apart in a more spacious ambience so that they do not appear to be too crowded. A distance of three to five metres between trees would be just fine although a little more crowded arrangement would not greatly harm the trees to any appreciable degree.

When grown singly in line plantings, the distance between trees has to be measured to that the result may look neat and orderly. Long driveways or avenues can take up quite a number of cherry trees and if planted in lines along the entire length, it can greatly improve the shade quality as well as the view of the property. 

Of course, there are many other varieties that make good avenue trees or trees for screening purposes, but the cherry tree stands out as it is neither too big nor too small, and together with its cool shade for one to walk under, it is certainly worth every dime to put in a few of such trees.  

As a stand-alone single tree, cherry trees can be grown anywhere in a scattered fashion. There is nothing to measure, and little to plan for, since it is just a scattered planting. The greatest advantage is in its simplicity with insignificant hassle and zero hustle. 

The planting process is just plain and smooth sailing all the way through to the siesta session on completion of the planting exercise.

Cherry trees are tough ornamental shade trees that can adapt well in most soil conditions and terrains. They tolerate poor soils conditions and are able to settle down easily in marginal soils or disturbed lands such as sandy or stony conditions. Even on cut hillsides, they have no problem growing up after the birds have deposited the seeds. 

Propagation of cherry trees may be carried out either by means of using seeds or the more-widely used vegetative methods. Seeds are easy to obtain from the ripe red fruits. Ripe fruits are always softer and are easy to squash to expose the juicy pulp and the seeds. 

Seedlings may come up after months of waiting but most may disappear due to runoffs. Exposed seeds are often picked up by various kinds of birds such as the friendly neighbourhood merbok that loiter around everyday.

That leaves vegetative propagation as the most convenient means to propagate cherry trees. Look for recently-matured or semi-mature branch cuttings to do the usual rooting process. 

Even the lateral shoots growing out from the lower section of the trunk may be used to produce new plants. The rest of the exercise is just a simple process of waiting for the success of the propagation.

Beneficial uses of cherry trees

Cherry trees are well-known for its ornamental and shade-providing characteristics. The spreading canopies are broad, dense and flexible to provide good shade especially for those walking underneath. 

Under strong wind conditions, they rarely snap or topple unlike many trees in town which would succumb easily. This is why drivers are always more discerning as to the choice of parking lot if there are trees around.

The wood from the trunks of cherry trees can be used in furniture making. The whitish to light brown wood are fine-grained, lightweight, fairly strong and durable, and they serve really well in the creation of beautiful light furnitures. 

Sometimes they are also used in construction business as props, temporary low scaffoldings, or simply laid over soggy ground for ease of movement. 

In the rural areas, rejected wood and branches were usually sun-dried and used as fuel for cooking purposes. Well-dried wooden pieces when burned, produce little irritating smoke, which therefore serve remarkably comfortably when used in wood fires to cook meals. 

The fibrous bark can be soaked until soft and malleable and then beaten with a piece of wood to expose the fibre which are then cleaned, dried and turned into strong ropes, nets, sacks or bags. 

This is done in just about the same way that jute or hemp are used to produce organic items for daily use.

Fruits of cherry trees can usually be collected in plentiful amounts and as they are edible, they may be consumed fresh at the site or else brought somewhere to celebrate the day. 

Surplus fruits may be converted into a reddish coloured jam, or they may be pickled in vinegar or a solution of sugar. Another way is to use the fruits mixed into a suitable dough and then baked in an oven to produce an appetising cake for coffee or tea break.

If there are sufficient numbers of trees, the flowers serve very well as a source of pollen and nectar in apiculture. This should be a boon to the local community who can at least have another source from which to scrape something to supplement their family income.

From the traditional medicine man’s point of view, almost the entire tree can be of benefit to mankind, and this includes the fruits, flowers, leaves, bark and roots.

Infusions or decoctions obtained from the selected parts are usually imbibed in sufficient quantities on a daily or alternate-day basis where they are claimed to be especially helpful in reducing headaches, stress, gastric ulcers and some superficial forms of infection. 

Some proponents of such plant-based complementary medicine also claim that the materials have an anti-diarrhoea and antiseptic effect which should be great news indeed for those who are supportive of going back to nature.

However, one of the most significant benefits of the cherry tree is that of its use in restoring disturbed lands as well as providing a means to reduce soil erosion. Typically, on slopes or banks of waterways, the degree of soil erosion is higher compared to the flats. 

The fast-growing cherry trees when planted in good numbers to cover such exposed areas, should be able to provide a strong protective grip on the soil surface thus reducing the loss of topsoil.

 

Flower (above) and fruit (below) of cherry tree.

 



A mature leaf with its unequal distribution of lamina.

A mature but small cherry tree. 

 

Several lateral shoots can be seen growing from the base of the tree.

Sepals remain after the petals have dropped off. 

Young tender leaves may be harvested and then converted into a tea drink.

A young bud waiting to open.

 





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