|Washington's famous cherry blossoms|
There is something hard to resist about cherries. The small red fruit is a popular seasonal food around the world. In northern areas, cherry trees are just beginning to produce flowers.
The cherry is a member of the same family of plants as the rose. It is closely related to the plum. Like cherry trees, plum trees also flower in early spring.
Cherries are thought to be native to western Asia. There are two major kinds of cherries harvested in the world: sweet and sour.
Sour cherries are not eaten fresh because they contain little sugar. Instead, they are processed to make prepared foods like jellies and pies and to make alcoholic drinks. The United States is a major producer of sour cherries. Among the states, Michigan is the top producer.
Russia, Poland and Turkey are other important cherry-producing nations.
Sweet cherries contain much more sugar than their sour relatives and are usually eaten fresh. Washington state is the biggest American producer, followed by California and Oregon.
The United States, Iran and Turkey are major producers of sweet cherries. In the United States, production fell by twenty percent last year after a record harvest in two thousand four.
Fresh cherries do not store well. They must reach market as soon as possible. So they cost more than many other kinds of fresh fruit.
Farmers produce different kinds of cherries through the process of grafting. They take cuttings from existing trees and join them to related trees, known as root stock. The cuttings, called scions [SY-uhnz], grow into the root stock, so the two kinds of trees grow as one.
Cherry trees are also valued for their springtime blossoms.
Cherry blossoms are popular in many parts of Asia and Europe. But Washington, D.C., has some of the most famous cherry trees in the world. Japan gave the United States three thousand cherry trees in nineteen twelve as a gift of friendship. There were twelve different kinds of cherry trees, but most were a kind called Yoshino.
Years later Japan gave another gift of three thousand eight hundred trees. In the early nineteen eighties, the United States provided Japan with cuttings from the Yoshino trees in Washington. These cuttings helped replace Japanese trees lost in a flood.
This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. Read and listen to our reports at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Steve Ember.