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Origin, history of cultivation
This species originated in the area between the Black and Caspian seas of Asia Minor. Birds probably carried it to Europe prior to human civilization. Cultivation probably began with Greeks, and was perpetuated by Romans, where it was believed to be an essential part of the Legionnaire's diet (this lead to the spread throughout Europe). Sweet cherries came to the US with English Colonists in 1629, but probably died out in the eastern US relatively quickly, while sour cherries persisted. Sweet cherries were introduced to California by spanish Missionaries, and in the 1800's by pioneers and fur traders from the eastern US. A California nurseryman, Seth Lewelling, gave 'Napoleon' the synonym 'Royal Ann', creating confusion that persists today. ('Bigarreau Napoleon' = Napoleon; term means "firm-fleshed" in French).
There is good evidence suggesting that P. cerasus arose from an unreduced pollen grain of P. avium crossed with P. fruticosa; this occurred in the same geographic region as for sweet cherry. The sour cherry came to the US with English settlers, like sweet cherries. It is more tolerant of the humid, rainy eastern conditions, and therefore proliferated there more than sweets, where it is still cultivated today in greatest numbers. Sour cherries do not attain good size when grown in arid climates.
Sour cherry growers prefer the term "pie" or "tart" cherry over "sour", since this connotes bad flavor. Most sour cherries are processed into pie fillings, hence the name.
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