Bird cherry is a common native tree, often found in wet woodlands, and alongside rivers and streams. We have planted it at Sylvan Nature Reserve, in the parts prone to flooding, and it also thrives along the streams in Bank Woods and Dowgill Grange.
It is a fairly small tree, growing to a height of 15 metres. Its spikes of sweet smelling white flowers, blooming in late April give it the regional name of ‘wild lilac’ in Yorkshire.
A distinctive feature of Bird Cherry is that is has an in-built natural ‘pest control’ system. The leaf stalk has 2 ‘glands’. If aphids or other pests attack the tree, these glands secrete a substance which attracts predatory insects, like ladybirds, which will then eat the pests. This in turn protects the tree from the pests.
The early flowers provide much needed nectar for bees and other pollinating insects. Its leaves are food for the caterpillars of many types of moths. It’s almost black, bitter cherries, borne in late summer, are eaten and spread by many birds and small mammals. The bark of the Bird Cherry has an unpleasant smell. The bark, roots and fruits were used to dye fabrics.