Friday, December 02, 2016

Wild Cherry in December

Prunus avium, Swindon, December 1st, 2016

Wild Cherry (Prunus avium), after hard frosts. Photos taken at my home in Moredon, Swindon.

Prunus avium, December 1st, 2016

The long leaves are now a monochrome brown, dry and crisped. 99% of the leaves have fallen off, but even so the tree doesn't quite look bare, because the other 1% are spread through the whole crown.

Fallen leaves of Prunus avium, December 1st, 2016

Today's things-I-still-didn't-know-about-cherries is  all about names.

I was recently reading Bo Balderson's Statsrådet och Döden, a Swedish whodunnit with a relatively rich and demanding vocabulary, and in it I came across the strange-looking word bigarrå . When I looked it up in the dictionary I was astonished to find that it meant a cherry-tree. (These particular cherry-trees play quite a significant role in the story.)

The normal Swedish word for cherry is körsbär (pronounced more or less as "sherss-bear"). The first syllable is cognate with cherry and the second syllable with berry.

[In English, these two words rhyme with each other, according to the common tendency for English words that are somehow connected in meaning to evolve towards similar sound and spelling, so that eventually the language is enriched by numerous word-clusters that are almost poems in themselves. Cherry-berry-merry-sherry-perry ;  fluster-bluster-duster ;  nearest and dearest ; gleam-glint-glimmer-glitter-glance-glass-glimpse ..... that sort of thing.]

More research has revealed that bigarrå is quite a common word in Sweden, where it means any sort of cultivated sweet cherry, the kind you grow in your garden and feast on straight off the tree. (Ultimately, these sweet cherry varieties are all derived from Prunus avium.)

In the UK, by contrast, the word bigarreau is purely a technical term, used by fruit-growers (I had never come across it until today.)

It originated of course in France, where it has a narrower definition than bigarrå. It refers specifically to eating-cherries with a two-tone (bigarré) red-and-white or red-and-yellow skin, and a firm yellow flesh. This more or less equates to the so-called "white cherries", varieties such as White Heart or Napoleon or Royal Anne or Rainier. Because of the long-established predominance of "black cherries" in supermarkets and Kentish lay-bys, these parti-coloured cherries now have a certain novelty-value and are much appreciated by enthusiasts.

Winter buds of Prunus avium, December 1st, 2016

The distinctive clustered buds, a feature that's almost restricted to oaks and cherries.

Prunus avium, December 1st, 2016

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