Tart Cherry Trees Are Still Just Trees

Apr 8, 2016

The cherry is Utah’s state fruit, and about 2 billion cherries are harvested in Utah each year, more than in any other state except Michigan.

A tart cherry tree blossom
Credit USDA

Cherry trees have been cultivated since the Bronze Age and selectively bred for thousands of years. Modern cherry trees are grafted, heavily pruned, and given the resources necessary for optimal fruit production. But, new research suggests that, despite their long history of domestication, cherry trees and other orchard fruits are still surprisingly similar to their wild ancestors.

“The idea is that all plants are similar in some ways. They are constrained by the fundamental properties of being a plant and the physics that they have to get past.”

Dr. Zack Brym, a recent graduate of Utah State University’s Department of Biology and Ecology Center, takes an ecological approach to understanding cultivated cherry and other fruit trees, such as apple trees. Brym measured the mathematical relationships of the branch architecture of orchard trees at the Kaysville Research Farm in Davis County in order to determine the optimal pruning strategy. His research found that a tree grower’s strategy should be to keep their trees small and to aim for spindly branches in order to produce high-quality fruit.

“It goes back to the early kings of France, really. They were putting up these hedgerows and ornamental gardens. You wanted small trees so that you could keep them pretty and keep them in your garden in a very ornamental and structured way. And, just by doing that, they found that these trees also produced larger and better-tasting fruits.”

Brym’s research suggests that, although domestic fruit trees mature earlier than wild trees and don’t have to compete with other trees for light, water, or nutrients, there are fundamental principles controlling their growth and their fruiting biology that are similar to all other trees.