Sunday, June 27, 2010

Nanking Cherry - Prunus tomentosa

This shrub was in my landscape when I moved here back in 1997, and according to the previous owners, it was there when they moved here in the early 1960's. They didn't know what it was, but noticed the birds loved its fruit, but were afraid to follow the birds' lead and try it for themselves, for fear of the unknown. Can't say I blame them, or myself, for also not adventuring there.

I kept trying to ID it with no luck until last Summer, when I noticed an article in Fine Gardening about edible landscapes by Dr. Lee Reich. (Pictured above)

I did a blog post about him back in March, referencing his guest blog post at The Garden Rant, and noting that he is the keynote speaker at The Summer Garden Experience at Landisville on Saturday, July 31.  Look for more information about that in a future entry.

From the Fine Gardening article:

Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa) is in the same genus as cherries, plums, and peaches, but is a different species than either sweet cherries (P. avium) or sour cherries (P. cerasus). This means that your Nanking Cherries can't be pollinated by either of these species, just as sweet cherries won't pollinate sour cherries and vice versa.

Nanking cherry is so tough that it will even grow under semiarid conditions and endure a snowless winter of -40°F followed by a scathing summer six months later. Generally, the bushes grow about 8 feet high and wide and bear grape-size fruit with a refreshing flavor somewhere between sweet and tart. The pinkish white flowers and subsequent fruit are borne in such profusion as to practically hide the stems.
Nanking cherry is tough and tasty
Name: Prunus tomentosa and cvs.
USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 7
Habit: Shrub
Taste: Sweet and tart
Fruit: Appears in early summer; at least two plants required for best yield
He also wrote a paper in 2007, Uncommon Fruits with Market Potential, describing several plants and shrubs that aren't very common, but could be, given a chance and with a little promotion.  It is also included (along with others) in his books Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, and Landscaping with Fruit.  He puts Nanking Cherry in the category:


The fruits of many of the uncommon fruits I have studied are known as unselected seedlings or relatively few selected cultivars. Even in this rather primitive form, the fruits are quite delicious—a hint of what they might be with some deliberate selection and breeding.

When Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosum Thunb., Rosaceae, Zones 3–6) was introduced into the US from China around the end of the 19th century, it was met with great fanfare both as an ornamental plant and as a fruit plant (Fig. 5). Some breeding has been done in Russia and there was some breeding done in the US following its introduction, but now only seedling plants are available. The flavor of even seedling fruits is all quite good, something between that of a sweet and a sour cherry. Shortcomings of Nanking cherry are its small fruit size and the fact that the stem detaches from the fruit at harvest, leaving a hole that bleeds juice and severely limits storage and shipping. But besides starting out with relatively good flavor, the plant also has value for its tolerance to adverse conditions (in its native habitat temperatures might range from –50°F (–45°C) in winter to plus 110°F (43°C) in summer), its precocity, the frost resistance of its blossoms, and its heavy production.

So, last Fall, I dug and potted up 6 seedlings that had popped up, and offered them for sale at the Plant Sale last month. Elmer G. and Karen N. talked about them, and Karen noted that they were around her place growing up. I think Elmer bought a couple.

There are two left in the holding area, hoping for homes next year.

I have some more and will pot them up this Fall for next year. 
I picked some of the fruit and took this picture.  So, if you're in the office on Monday (tomorrow, June 28th) come in and sample them.

Not up to Denise L. or Nancy R. standards for arrangements, but kinda purty.



  1. Wow this is awesome, someone in franklin county growing nanking cherry. If you have those cuttings growing I'd be more than happy to take them off your hands and plant them in the fall. Do you have an email address I can contact you through?

  2. Sure Josh. rce11 - at -

    We have two left over from the plant sale at the Extension Office - 181 Franklin Farm Lane, Chambersburg, PA 17202 263-9226 X242

    They're not from cuttings, however, but from seeds, scattered by the birds, I assume