The word cherry refers to a fleshy fruit (drupe) that contains a single stony seed. The cherry belongs to the family Rosaceae, genus Prunus, along with almonds, peaches, plums, apricots and bird cherries. The subgenus, Cerasus, is distinguished by having the flowers in small corymbs of several together (not singly, nor in racemes), and by having a smooth fruit with only a weak groove or none along one side. The subgenus is native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, with two species in America, three in Europe, and the remainder in Asia. The word "cherry" comes from the French word "cerise", which comes in turn from the Latin words cerasum and Cerasus.
The English word cherry, French cerise, Spanish cereza, and Southern Italian dialect cerasa (standard Italian ciliegia) all come from Classical Greek κέρασος "cherry", which has been identified with Cerasus. The cherry was first exported to Europe from Cerasus in Roman times.
The Wild Cherry (P. avium) has given rise to the Sweet Cherry to which most cherry cultivars belong, and the Sour Cherry (P. cerasus) is used mainly for cooking. Both species originate in Europe and western Asia; they do not cross-pollinate each other. The other species, although having edible fruit, are not grown extensively for consumption, except in northern regions where the two main species will not grow. Irrigation, spaying, labor, and their propensity to damage from rain and hail make cherries relatively expensive. Nonetheless, there is high demand for the fruit.
Major commercial cherry orchards in Europe extend from the Iberian peninsula east to Asia Minor, and to a smaller extent may also be grown in the Baltic States and southern Scandinavia. In the United States, most sweet cherries are grown in Washington, California and Oregon. Important sweet cherry cultivars include "Bing", "Brooks", "Tulare", "King", and "Rainier". Both Oregon and Michigan provide light-coloured "Royal Ann" ('Napoleon'; alternately "Queen Anne") cherries for the maraschino cherry process. Most sour (also called tart) cherries are grown in Michigan, followed by Utah, New York, and Washington. Additionally, native and non-native cherries grow well in Canada (Ontario and British Columbia). Sour cherries include Nanking and Evans Cherry. Traverse City, Michigan claims to be the "Cherry Capital of the World", hosting a National Cherry Festival and making the world's largest cherry pie. The specific region of Northern Michigan that is known the world over for tart cherry production is referred to as the "Traverse Bay" region. Farms in this region grown many varieties of cherries and companies like Traverse Bay Farms sell the fruit of the region. Likewise in Australia the New South Wales town of Young is famous nationwide as the "Cherry Capital of Australia", and also hosts the internationally famous National Cherry Festival. Popular varieties include the "Montmorency", "Morello", "North Star", "Early Richmond", "Titans" and "Lamberts".
Cherries have a very long growing season and can grow anywhere, including the great cold of the tundra. In Australia they are usually at their peak around Christmas time, in southern Europe in June, in America in June, and in the UK in mid July, always in the summer season. In many parts of North America they are among the first tree fruits to ripen.
Annual world production (as of 2007) of domesticated cherries is about 2 million tonnes. Around 40% of world production originates in Europe and around 13% in the United States. The US is the world's second largest single country producer, after Turkey.
Besides the fruit, cherries also have attractive flowers, and they are commonly planted for their flower display in spring; several of the Asian cherries are particularly noted for their flower displays. The Japanese sakura in particular are a national symbol celebrated in the yearly Hanami festival. Many flowering cherry cultivars (known as 'ornamental cherries') have the stamens and pistils replaced by additional petals ("double" flowers), so are sterile and do not bear fruit. They are grown purely for their flowers and decorative value. The most common of these sterile cherries is the cultivar 'Kanzan'. Cherry trees provide food for the caterpillars of several Lepidoptera. See List of Lepidoptera which feed on Prunus.
Cherries contain anthocyanins, the red pigment in berries. Cherry anthocyanins have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation in rats. Anthocyanins are also potent antioxidants under active research for a variety of potential health benefits. According to a study presented at the Experimental Biology 2008 meeting in San Diego, rats that received whole tart cherry powder mixed into a high-fat diet didn’t gain as much weight or build up as much body fat, and their blood showed much lower levels of indicators of the kind of inflammation that has been linked to heart disease and diabetes. In addition, they had significantly lower blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides than the other rats.