Knowledge of the level of cold hardiness and how hardiness is inherited in sour cherry is essential to germplasm collection and cultivar development. Twig samples of two sweet cherries (Prunus avium L.), 12 sour cherries (P. cerasus L.), and one ground cherry (P. fruticosa Pall.) of diverse geographic origins were collected in Jan. 1990 and monthly from Aug. 1990 to Mar. 1991, preconditioned to induce maximum cold resistance, and subjected to freeze tests and differential thermal analysis. Low temperature exotherms (LTEs) were detected in all stems of P. cerasus investigated and correlated to xylem incipient injury temperatures (ITs) from December to February (r = 0.84, P ≤ 0.01). March had the best correlation of LTEs to xylem ITs with r = 0.84, P ≤ 0.01. LTEs were strongly correlated to phloem-cambium ITs in November, representing the acclimation period. The correlation coefficient (r) for the phloem-cambium ITs and the twig LTEs during November was 0.68, significant at P ≤ 0.01. Cortical tissue and vegetative bud injuries were not correlated to the stem LTEs. Xylem ITs were selected for evaluating the cold resistance of sour cherry in December to March and phloem-cambium ITs were selected for November. The degree of supercooling and hardiness of the phloem-cambium in late fall and early spring appears significant in determining the stem hardiness and commercial range of P. cerasus. Phloem-cambium tissue, expressed the most rapid deacclimation response. The average decrease in hardiness for the phloem-cambium, xylem, and cortical tissues between February and March was 4 °C, 0.32 °C, and 2.14 °C, respectively. Principal component (PC) analyses of the phloem-cambium and cortical tissues depicted gradations between minimum survival temperatures of the two presumed progenitor species of sour cherry, i.e., sweet cherry and ground cherry. The first principal component (PC1), which accounted for 61% of the total variance, was used to separate among cultivars and seedlings. Cultivars and seedlings at the negative end of PC1 exhibited hardier phloem-cambium tissue at critical injury times, October, December, January, and March than cultivars and seedlings at the positive end of the PC1 axis. Cultivars and progeny of crosses of northern origin parents showed hardiness values more comparable to ground cherry than did selections of less-cold-hardy parents suggesting that cold is a major selective force, contributing to sour cherry population variation.
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