22nd session American Pomological Society, pp. 160-161 (1899)
A Promising New Fruit from the Plains
Charles E. Bessey, Lincoln, Nebraska
Upon the plains of Nebraska, one of the small native shrubs has attracted attention on account of its promising fruits, is what has been known as the Sand Cherry. Scientifically it is the Prunus pumila of the botanists, and a member of the natural order ROSACEAE, and of the family AMYGDALEAE. Its affinities are with the cherries and the plums, native of this country and Europe.
In Nebraska it occurs upon sandy soils north of the Platte River, beginning at about seventy-five or one hundred miles from the Missouri River, and extending thence westward and southwestward to the Colorado line. It appears to prefer the sandier soils, hence its popular name, and over the great area I have outlined wherever the soil is sufficiently sandy it occurs in abundance. In these portions of the country the inhabitants have for a long time been in the habit of collecting and using the fruit, and in some cases attempts have been made to bring the shrubs under cultivation.
The fruits are true cherries, occurring usually in pairs or threes (rarely singly) on the last year's wood. The cherries are about one-half an inch in diameter, and when ripe are of a deep purple-black color. In shape they vary from flattened spherical (oblate spherical) to spherical, and even bluntly conical. At the base they are slightly indented, and the apex is usually marked by a slight indentation also. The stalk is slender, and from one-half to three-fourths of an inch in length. The stone or pit is slightly elongated, but little compressed, rounded on one margin, and bluntly angled on the other.
The fruits have a colored flesh, which possesses in many cases a considerable astringency, but in nearly every clump of bushes one may always find some which have but little, if any astringency. I have frequently eaten the fresh cherries while rambling over the plains, and have often found specimens which were fully as palatable as many of the cultivated cherries.
The shrub grows to a height of from one to two feet, or rarely more. Its leaves are of firm texture, oblanceolate in shape, with slightly serrated margins. Their under surfaces are whitish, and they are borne upon short petioles, and stand alternately upon the stems. Under cultivation the shrubs are much thriftier, and the leaves are larger.
From the fact that in a wild state these cherries are so large, and in many cases so palatable, I am led to hope that by cultivation they may be made to yield us a new fruit for our gardens in some portions of the Northern States, especially in sandy soils. I am, moreover, encouraged in this hope by the fact that experiments upon a small scale, made by persons living in the regions where the Sand Cherry grows, have given results which indicate that it is readily affected by cultivation.
In closing, I need only say that the Sand Cherry of the plains, while apparently the same botanically as the Prunus pumila of the East, possesses such well marked differences, that I am inclined to regard it as at least a good geographical variety. It is from the western form only that I hope we may derive a new fruit.