North Star cherry fruiting like a wild black cherry?

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ArboristSite Lurker
Mar 14, 2022
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Hi all, I have a weird problem with a North Star (sour) cherry tree maybe someone has seen before. I am in southwestern Ohio. I planted a young dwarf tree back in 2014 in a section of open ground (full sun, good drainage), along with a plum and an apricot. I have had many North Stars in the past at other properties, all with great performance. This tree is probably as big as it is going to get at this point. I have never collected any fruit from it, even though it is fruiting. The fruit is unusable - tiny, hard pea-sized cherries. They develop but are 1/3 the size they should be and have almost no flesh over the seed. For the past several years, I thought it perhaps due to malnutrition or pests, so I paid more attention to fertilizing and spraying. Last year I had a large crop of cherries to show for it - but they were the same hard, small, pea-sized cherries.

I will note that wild black cherry trees are native to Ohio, and I have a large one 15' from this tree. It was an accident - I thought this was the apricot tree I planted, but a wild seed sprouted in the same hole and rapidly grew, taking over the apricot entirely before I realized it. The black cherry is much bigger than the North Star now. It was also fruiting heavily last year and the fruit looked identical!

I have never seen this before, where a North Star fruits like a wild cherry. It has not jumped its bud union (not that it would have caused this).

I suspect a pollination problem - what do you think? Would planting another North Star solve this, or would I then have THREE cherry trees with unusable fruit?
You have most likely grown a tree from the rootstock. Your picture looks very similar to a mahaleb cherry, these trees are a common rootstock verity.
You have most likely grown a tree from the rootstock. Your picture looks very similar to a mahaleb cherry, these trees are a common rootstock verity.

Wow, you have me seriously intrigued. I have had sour cherries jump their bud union the other way, producing standard trees. It didn't occur to me the other end might have taken off. It did have a few difficult early years. I'm going to go out tomorrow and snap some pics of that bud union. I'll post them here.
Ok, I guess I haven't looked as carefully at that bud union as I thought. Here's a good picture along with a wider shot of the tree. I believe the small branch at the side is the North Star but the other side is indeed the rootstock taking off. The size and shape is all wrong and fair point I've never seen a North Star have surface roots like this.

I'd like to move this tree out to another spot on my 50 acres so I can put a new North Star in its place. It's still dormant right now. Any thoughts on my chance of success?


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It's possible that the issue with your North Star cherry tree is a pollination problem, especially since the wild black cherry tree nearby was also fruiting heavily with similar looking fruit. The small, hard, pea-sized cherries could be the result of inadequate pollination or cross-pollination with a different cherry variety that is not compatible with the North Star.

Planting another North Star cherry tree may help solve the issue if the problem is indeed related to pollination. Having another tree nearby would increase the chances of cross-pollination and could result in larger and more usable fruit. However, if the issue is something else entirely, such as a disease or nutrient deficiency, then planting another tree may not solve the problem. It's also possible that the wild black cherry tree is somehow affecting the North Star's growth and fruiting, although this would be less likely if the trees are not grafted onto each other.

It might be a good idea to consult with a local arborist or horticulturist who can take a closer look at your tree and offer specific advice based on your location and growing conditions.