Western Sand Cherry

(Prunus pumila var.besseyi)

Sand cherry plant
‘Hansen’s’ sand cherry in bud

Cultivars tested

Hansen’s; specimen plants (note: appear to be open-pollinated)

Description and site preference

Type and size – Shrub, 2-5 feet high and across
Hardiness zone – 3-6
Exposure– Full sun (commercial) to part shade (home garden)
Soil– Sandy loam to clay loam, pH 4.5-7.5
Drainage– Moderate to well drained

Economic factors

Years to harvest – 2-3 after transplanting (3-4 years to full production)
Maintenance– Low (little required); pruning after year 2 or 3
Life of planting – Less than 20 years
Machine harvest potential – Should be good
Suitable markets – Fresh; preserves and pies

Dormant sand cherry
Dormant ‘Hansen’s’ sand cherry

Notable features

Nutritional highlights – Unknown
Adaptability– Very adaptable, drought tolerant
Pest issues – Brown rot (fruit and vegetation) has been observed; known to be subject to black knot; plum curculio, leaf spot, powdery mildew
Invasive potential – Native
Environmental benefits – Insectary: attractive to bees and butterflies; minimal water and fertilizer requirements

Integration characteristics

Shared management – High; easy to manage shrub
Shared equipment – High; most equipment including harvester
Shared processing – Intermediate
Co-marketing – Intermediate

Integration potential

Sand cherry appears to be an easy plant to grow and could serve as a good insectary plant to attract beneficial insects that would benefit other plants with economic potential in an integrated system. There was not enough information or observation time to determine its potential economic contribution.

History and background

Sand cherry is a species of bush cherry native to eastern and central North America from New Brunswick, west to Ontario and Montana, and south to North Carolina and southwest Arkansas. This hardy shrub was included in the test plot for observation along with other bush cherry species because it has potential for mechanical harvesting. It should be noted that although this shrub has large, cherry-sized fruit, it is genetically much more like a plum, as it will hybridize with certain other plum species but not to any degree with cherry species. The fruit flavor is also more aligned with plums, although they tend to be quite astringent. There is not much information about the fruit and its consumer appeal, but one source said, “Many cultivars have been developed for fruit quality.”

Observations at Carandale Farm

Selections from two sources are being observed in the test plot. ‘Hansen’s Bush Cherry’ is a named variety received from Miller Nurseries in 2008.

  • Plants adapted very well despite major bindweed competition
  • Plants had some fruit in 2010
  • Fruit on one plant was dark purple. The other plant had fruit that remained green when fully ripe
  • Plants are vigorous, with very high yield potential
  • Not enough fruit has been harvested to evaluate its economic potential
  • The bush that produces green fruit has an upright v-shape. The bush with purple fruit has a sprawling nature, but this could be due to bindweed competition

Unnamed specimen plants were provided by Dr. Brian Smith, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he uses sand cherry in his plant breeding program.

  • Planted in 2009 at a site that receives partial shade
  • Plants established well, but have been slow growing
  • Plants sucker readily
  • Bloomed and bore some dark colored fruit the year after planting
  • Observation ongoing


Fruit is usually dark purple, indicating high anthocyanin levels, which suggests high antioxidant levels. Occasionally sand cherry will bear green fruit, which would not match this stereotype. ‘Hansen’s Cherry’ is supposed to be a sand cherry selected for its fruit quality, but one of the two plants purchased by this name bears fruit that remains green and never gets sweet (though it gets soft and is obviously as ripe as it will ever get).

One problem with ordering and observing little known fruit plants is that there is not a good way of knowing if the plants received are true to type and/or mislabeled. Sand cherry specimens that are in the test plot have not been observed long enough to determine their economic potential in an integrated cropping system. From literature reviewed and limited observations, there appears to be much variation in this plant species. The plants could be managed for mechanical harvest.


Wikipedia entry on Sand Cherry
Dave’s Garden information on Sand Cherry

Comments are closed.