photo by Troy Weldy, NY Natural Heritage Program
P. depressa Pursh
=Prunus depressa (Pursh) Gleason
Cerasus pumila (L.) Michx.
=Prunus pumila L. var. pumila
P. cuneata Raf.
P. pumila L. cuneata (Raf.) Bailey
Prunus susquehanae hort. ex Willd.
=Prunus pumila L. var. susquehanae (hort. ex Willd.) Jaeger [10,13,43]
Prunus pumila L. var. besseyi (Bailey) Gleason, western sand cherry
Prunus pumila L. var. depressa (Pursh) Gleason, eastern sand cherry
Prunus pumila L. var. pumila, Great Lakes sand cherry
Prunus pumila L. var. susquehanae (hort. ex Willd.) Jaeger, Sesquehana sand cherry
Varieties are referred to by their common names in this review.LIFE FORM:
Varieties: Western sand cherry occurs from Ontario south to Arkansas and west to Utah, Montana, and Saskatchewan. Eastern sand cherry occurs from Quebec and Newfoundland south to Tennessee and west to Ontario. Great Lakes sand cherry occurs from Ontario south to Pennsylvania and west to Iowa and Minnesota. Sesquehana sand cherry occurs from Quebec and Newfoundland south to Virginia and west to Minnesota and Manitoba [43,80].ECOSYSTEMS :
big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) community type 
dunes dominated by prairie sandreed (Calamovilfa longifolia) 
dunes on Lake Michigan dominated by little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) 
on northerly aspects of little bluestem vegetation types 
sandy outwashes in the red pine (Pinus resinosa) forest type 
jack pine-red oak (P. banksiana-Quercus rubra) ecological type 
ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa) forest type 
ponderosa pine forest type 
needle-and-thread grass (Hesperostipa comata)-prairie sandreed-sedge (Carex spp.) vegetation type
ponderosa pine-bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) type 
sandhills mixed prairie dunes dominated by needle-and-thread grass, prairie Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha),
and sand bluestem sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus) sandhills vegetation type with
hairy grama (Bouteloua hirsuta) and blue grama (B. gracilis) 
sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus) sandhills vegetation type with hairy grama (Bouteloua hirsuta) and blue grama (B. gracilis) 
Blackhills in the oak-sumac (Quercus-Rhus spp.) association 
ponderosa pine forest type 
dune habitats with blowout grass (Redfieldia flexuosa), sandhill muhly (Muhlenbergia pungens), sand bluestem, and prairie sandreed 
shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa ssp. floribunda)-little bluestem habitat type 
mixed jack pine and red pine forest type 
mixed shrub savannahs with hazelnut (Corylus americana), willow, rose (Rosa spp.), serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), and pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) 
red pine forest type 
red pine forest type of the pine and hemlock (Tsuga spp.) cover type 
red pine forest type 
red pine forest type 
Photos courtesy of Univ. of WI-Stevens Pt.
Kenneth J. Sytsma
|Hugh U. Iltis|
Sand cherry is a native, diffusely-branched shrub that grows from 1.5 to 9.1 feet (0.5-3.0 m) in height. The shrub may be decumbent or prostrate when growing on dunes or other wind-blown sites [10,73]. The leaves are generally oblanceolate and 0.4 to 0.8 inch (10-20 mm) wide. Leaves of Sesquehana sand cherry are often 0.8 to 1.2 inches (20-30 mm) wide . The perfect flowers occur in umbel-like clusters of 2 to 4. The fruit is a one-seeded drupe 0.4 to 0.6 inch (10-15 mm) in diameter. The seed is a flattened stone 0.3 inch (7-8 mm) in diameter [10,29,73]. Sand cherry has a spreading root system that grows primarily in the mineral soil layer >9.8 inches (25 cm) deep with some roots penetrating to a depth of 8 to 12 feet (2.6-4.0 m) [77,91]. Sand cherry is rhizomatous; rhizomes are uniformly abundant in the shallow and deeper soil layers .
There is some evidence that sand cherry may be allelopathic. In field and greenhouse studies, extracts from sand cherry leaves completely prevented the germination of jack pine seedlings and also inhibited seedling growth [11,55,65].RAUNKIAER  LIFE FORM:
Breeding system: Sand cherry is monoecious and self-fertile [30,73].
Pollination: Sand cherry is pollinated by insects [10,30].
Seed production: Sand cherry starts producing seed at 2 to 3 years of age. An average of 17 pounds (7.6 kg) of seed can be recovered from 100 pounds (45 kg) of fruit yielding 1,500 to 2,965 seeds per pound (3,300-6523/kg) [30,42,53].
Seed dispersal: Sand cherry seeds are primarily spread by birds and small mammals that eat the fruit [10,30].
Seed banking: Whittle and others  found no evidence of seed banking by sand cherry in a jack pine ecosystem in Ontario. Additional information on the seed banking of sand cherry is lacking.
Germination: Sand cherry has been described as being "extremely dormant". It requires moist cold stratification before germination will occur . Greenhouse studies have found that the best germination occurs after 100 days of wet chilling at 41 oF (5 oC) or 120 days at 33 oF (1 oC) [30,53].
Seedling establishment/growth: Although there is good information on the artificial cultivation of sand cherry seedlings, detailed information on natural seedling development is limited. Olson  reported that seedling invasion of sand cherry occurs on new dunes of southern Lake Michigan. Plummer  described sand cherry as having a "moderate seed spread". However, Whittle and others  reported that no seedling establishment occurred within the first 4 years following a prescribed burn in a mixed jack-red-white pine forest in Ontario.
Artificial cultivation of sand cherry seedlings is discussed in Value for Rehabilitation of Disturbed Sites.
Asexual regeneration: Sand cherry reproduces vegetatively by sprouting from the roots and rhizomes [32,54,92].SITE CHARACTERISTICS:
Information on the elevational ranges of sand cherry is not available for all areas in which it occurs. The following table summarizes reported elevational ranges of sand cherry.
|CO||3,500 to 6,500 feet (1,050-1,900 m) |
|Adirondacks||1,040 feet (320 m) |
|Great Lake States||650 to 1,300 feet (200-400 m)|
|ON||660 to 1,300 feet (200-400 m) |
Sand cherry is considered a dune building species on the sand dunes of Lake Michigan. Its deep root network helps to stabilize sand, allowing for the invasion of other plant species and colonization by "soil building" invertebrates such as ants [10,54]. Sand cherry is most abundant on dunes 55 years old or less, and decreases in abundance as dunes age [16,17,27,49].SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT:
Fire regimes: Sand cherry occurs in plant communities and ecosystems with a wide range of historic fire frequencies. In the prairie and grassland communities, fires were relatively frequent with intervals ranging from <10 years to <35 years . The fire intervals in the forest ecosystems were highly variable. In interior ponderosa pine and red pine communities, for example, fires were typically frequent low severity surface fires [2,14]. Conversely, red-white pine and jack pine communities experienced a mixed-severity regime with low to moderate severity at frequent intervals and stand-replacing fires over longer intervals . As of this writing (2006), fire ecology studies are lacking for sand cherry. The following table provides fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where sand cherry occurs. Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes".
|Community or ecosystem||Dominant species||Fire return interval range (years)|
|bluestem prairie||Andropogon gerardii var. gerardii-Schizachyrium scoparium||<10 [44,56]|
|Nebraska sandhills prairie||Andropogon gerardii var. paucipilus-Schizachyrium scoparium||<10 |
|plains grasslands||Bouteloua spp.||<35 [56,94]|
|blue grama-needle-and-thread grass-western wheatgrass||Bouteloua gracilis-Hesperostipa comata-Pascopyrum smithii||<35 [56,67,94]|
|wheatgrass plains grasslands||Pascopyrum smithii||<5-47+ [56,63,94]|
|jack pine||Pinus banksiana||<35 to 200 [15,19]|
|interior ponderosa pine*||Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum||2-30 [2,3,48]|
|red pine (Great Lakes region)||Pinus resinosa||3-18 (x=3-10) [14,26]|
|red-white pine* (Great Lakes region)||Pinus resinosa-P. strobus||3-200 [15,35,50]|
|eastern white pine-eastern hemlock||Pinus strobus-Tsuga canadensis||35-200|
|northern pin oak||Quercus ellipsoidalis||<35 |
|little bluestem-grama prairie||Schizachyrium scoparium-Bouteloua spp.||<35 |
A summer burn was conducted in a jack-white-red pine stand in Ontario, and vegetation sampling was done 4 years after the burn. Sand cherry cover was not significantly different (p<0.05) when averaged across burned versus unburned plots. Sand cherry regeneration occurred exclusively from sprouts, not from seed .
In the jack pine barrens of Wisconsin, vegetation sampling found that frequent, repeated fires reduced sand cherry frequency by as much as 25% when compared to unburned sites .FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Palatability/nutritional value: Sand cherry is reported to be a good quality forage for cattle, domestic sheep, deer, and pronghorn .
Cover value: Sand cherry provides good brood habitat for sharp-tailed grouse in Wisconsin jack pine barrens . In the jack pine barrens of northern Michigan, the shrub provides nesting and fledgling cover for Kirtland's warbler [51,60].VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:
Sand cherry was first cultivated in the United States in 1756 . It can be readily propagated from seeds and stem and root cuttings. Root cuttings should be collected in the winter, and stem cuttings taken in late spring or early summer. Seed can be collected in late summer or fall when fruits ripen, and all pulp should be removed before sowing or storing . Seeds should undergo a moist cold scarification for at least 100 days and not be allowed to dry out before planting. Plant the seeds 2 to 3 inches (5.1-7.6 cm) apart and about 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5.1 cm) deep [30,32].
The extensive root system and drought hardiness of sand cherry has made it a desirable shrub for erosion control and windbreak plantings throughout the Midwest . Better performance in these planting can be achieved with fertilization . For windbreak plantings, a 4-foot (1.2m) spacing is recommended .
Sand cherry provides good dwarfing rootstock for peaches, apricots and plums . Sand cherry, primarily western sand cherry, has been used to create hybrids with peach, apricot and plum. The resulting cultivars are generally quite winter hardy and bloom later in the spring which results in less spring freeze damage [62,88]. Hybrids of peach and sand cherry are largely sterile, but hybrids of Japanese plum and sand cherry are highly fertile .
The purple sand cherry (Prunus × cistena), a cross between sand cherry and cherry plum (P. cerasifera), is a popular ornamental shrub desired for its colorful purple foliage .
The fruit of sand cherry can be eaten raw or cooked or dried for later use. The fruit can also be used to make jam, jelly or syrup .
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Plantings of sand cherry can be heavily damaged by rodent feeding, and fencing may be required to protect the plants in the first few years after planting. Older plants can recover from occasional feeding damage by sprouting .
Sand cherry is classified as a grazing decreaser and is easily eliminated under abusive grazing .
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