California cherry season starts in mid-April in Stanislaus and Kern counties with the royal varieties marketed by Dave Wilson Nursery that have gained increasing acceptance among growers.

Royal Hazel, Royal Lynn and Royal Tioga are the best known members of a larger family of varieties.

“In the last few years they’ve had a consistent set, and they’ve had no problem with the different temperatures and other factors that cause a lot of fruit not to set,” said Leith Gardner, fruit breeder for Modesto, Calif.-based Zaiger’s Inc. Genetics, which developed the varieties for Dave Wilson Nursery.

“They don’t need additives like Dormex or CAN 17, or any artificial stimulators to bloom flowers and set in low chilling years.”


Good texture, size

The early cherries have a firm texture and size well.

“Patterson has a lot of the new royal varieties that are coming on in California, and those are the very first to harvest,” said Brianna Shales, communications manager for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers LLC.

“They’re an early market variety that also performs well, with large size and good flavors,” Shales said March 29.

“Those and coral have become predominant varieties in California, I think second in tonnage only to bing. Those are both good cherries that typically set well. This year, especially in Patterson and Kern County, the crop for both the royals and corals looks awesome.”

Other royal varieties include Ansel, Brynn, Edie, Elaine, Helen, Lee, Rainier and Tenaya.

It can take about 15 years for a fruit variety to be ready for commercial use. Breeders may not even show trees to growers until they’ve yielded a few seasons of consistent quality.


Plum cherry in the works

Zaiger’s has no plans for releases in 2016, but development continues. A plum cherry — or Pluerry — is one item on the agenda.

“We’re working on plum cherries to try to get a longer season for cherries,” Gardner said.

“We want to get some of the qualities from the plum to resist rain cracking, and probably a bit tougher skin to help resist the spotted wing drosophila. These are long-range projects we’re working on and hoping to be successful with.”

A plum cherry, as its name implies, is a hybrid.

“The tree and the fruit look a lot like a cherry tree,” she said. “You can mix the cherry plums in with the other cherries and you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”

Zaiger’s has developed other hybrid fruit varieties such as pluot and aprium, part of a larger stone fruit breeding program. One area of dominance for the company has been white-fleshed peaches and nectarines.