It’s cherry blossom time again. Although many of the trees whose blossoms we now enjoy in gardens and parks originate in Japan, we do have our own cherry trees, amongst which is the wild cherry or gean as it is called here. The name gean seemingly originates from the French word guigne, meaning cherry. In Scotland, because of the Auld Alliance with France we have numerous words of French origin. Perhaps not surprisingly many of these words have connections with the kitchen and with food.
The gean is the ancestor of our cultivated cherries and produces fruit that is often bitter. However one year we collected handfuls of cherries from a nearby avenue of gean trees as their taste was so sweet and juicy. It’s not usual for these even to ripen as the birds like them and strip them from the trees before fully ripe. This gives the gean or prunus avium its other name – the bird cherry. According to an article I read recently the resin that seeps from the trunk of the gean used to be prized by children as chewing gum, but I must say I haven’t heard of that before.
In a previous garden we had a morello cherry tree (Prunus Cerasus), also known as the sour cherry because of its more acidic fruit. Many jams and conserves are made from morello cherries, though I don’t remember ours ever fruiting much – perhaps because we live a bit too high for growing most fruit which is often caught by late frosts. We had one such frost a couple of nights ago, in the early morning. When our morello did fruit, the cherries were scoffed by the birds before even fully developed.
The trunks of cherry trees are easy to identify with, typically, shiny bark in a deep reddish-brown with prominent cream-coloured horizontal lines which makes them quite distinctive.
Cherry wood was often used in furniture making, with its wonderful warm reddish brown colour. Gathering sufficient must be challenging as these wild cherry trees tend to grow singly or in small groups, often away from other trees. So finding enough to make pieces of furniture must have made the items expensive, especially as geans are not long lived. Some buyers, particularly in the Highlands, may have looked askance at items made from cherrywood as in certain places the gean was considered a witch’s tree and therefore to be avoided at all costs.
Sadly cherry blossom, whether of the Japanese or gean variety, is a short-lived wonder. For a very brief period it brightens our gardens, streets and countryside, a welcome sight in early spring. In Japan, where the blossom is called sakura, they celebrate the blooming with outdoor festivals and parties, but in Scotland we just enjoy their fleeting blossom, often battered by winds and rain as well as burnished by sunshine, before the white and pink petals drift to the ground and carpet the grass or pavement with creamy white or sweety pink, gone for another year.