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Bitter cherry

Scientific Name:
Prunus emarginata
Native Name(s):
  1. Klamath: Wö-dō-ghōt'-säm (Coville 1897)


Prunus emarginata is typically a deciduous shrub that generally grows 1 to 4 m tall, but can also appear as a tree with heights of up to 10 m. Leaves are green, oblong to oval in shape with fine serrations at the rounded tip. The small flowers are white and fragrant, and appear in clusters of 5 to 12 along the ends of branches. This species produces many red-to-purple colored bitter fruits ranging in size from 7 to 14 mm, that and are fleshy and bitter when fresh. Within the fruits is a hard-shelled pit that is 5 to 8 mm. This species blooms from April to May.

Identification Tips

Prunus emarginata is very similar to Prunus virginiana but is distinguished by its tight clusters of flowers, rather than elongated racemes. 

Starch Granules

This species is starch deficient, very few, small granules of less than 2 microns each were observed from the fruits of P. emarginata


Prunus emarginata grows below 3000 m on moist rocky slopes and in valley bottoms along streams. It often forms dense stands or thickets within chaparral and mixed-evergreen and conifer forests.


This species grows throughout the western United States.

Prunus emarginata was utilized by the Klamath. The fruit is juicy and bitter and the branches of this species was used for whips.
As food
Klamath: "The wild bitter cherry of the region, occurring abundantly throughout the yellow-pine forest and sometimes forming dense thickets as high as a man.  Its bright red, juicy fruit, about the size of a garden pea, has an intensely bitter taste which has given rise to the local name "quinine cherry."  The Indian name is derived from wö-dō-ghōts', whip, because of the slender branches are so often used for whips." (Coville 1897:98-99) 
Distribution Map: