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Prunus Padus, commonly called the Bird Cherry Tree, is a small native deciduous tree. It usually grows to a height of 15 meters with a canopy width of up to 8 meters. This tree is native to much of the UK and parts of Europe. During the Middle Ages, it was believed that if branches of the Bird Cherry were placed near the front door of a house they would ward off the dreaded Black Plague.
Prunus Padus Cherry is often found growing wild in wetlands and along riverbanks. It is also highly prized as a landscape tree. In May, small white flower racemes appear. The flowers boast a heavy almond scent. The early spring blooms are an excellent source of nectar and always attract bees, song birds and butterflies to the garden. Each single blossom measures 8-15 mm across and features five distinct petals. The Bird Cherry tree is a hermaphrodite and contains both male and female flower parts so is self-fertile.
After flowering, small black berries appear. The drupes are shiny and black. They each contain one large seed. Birds especially adore feasting on the berries even if they are extremely bitter tasting. Woodland creatures such as the badger, wood mouse, yellow-necked mouse, and dormouse also relish the sour berries. Although far too bitter for humans to eat, for centuries, the berries have been used to make liqueur, flavour wines and dye wool.
During the autumn, the foliage turns brilliant shades of red and orange before falling from the tree. The dark drupes often persist on the tree after the foliage is gone if the birds and creatures do not consume them.
The Prunus padus tree is extremely hardy and will grow in virtually any soil type. For optimum growth, it should be planted in well-draining moisture-retentive loamy soil. Once planted, the tree needs to be kept moderately moist to encourage ample root growth. Even after the tree is established, it still does not handle drought well and prefers evenly moist well-draining soil. It can withstand occasional flooding so is ideal to plant along a river or stream.
Plant this robust diminutive tree in a location that receives full sun for optimum flower and fruit product. It does not like windy areas and should have some wind protection to keep its branches from breaking. The Prunus padus grows at elevations of up to 600 meters in the U.K. It can tolerate a temperature drop down to -30 degrees Celsius without suffering damage. It is known to thrive in Northern Britain including Scotland.
The Bird Cherry tree looks wonderful planted as a specimen or as part of a thicket. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) also lists this tree as an ideal pollinator.