The majority of commercial orchards are planted with tree cultivars carefully selected for both their fruit quality and tree growth characteristics. Many growth factors come into play when choosing which to plant: tree size, training/pruning requirements, precocity, disease resistance, pollinization, soil and nutritional requirements, and suitability to your climate. As well as different fruit characteristics: skin color and appearance, flavor characteristics, texture, harvest date, storability, and overall consumer appeal. Luckily, extensive testing has been performed by breeders, tree nurseries, and growers resulting in the development of thousands of commercially available cultivated trees with full descriptions. Here we have compiled descriptions of many of the most popular and successful cultivars grown in Washington and the Pacific Northwest.
For additional resources on cultivar information we suggest the following links:
- Washington State Apple Commission (most common apple cultivars in WA) (Accessed: 1/17/17).
- US Apple Association (popular apple cultivars for all US) (Accessed: 1/17/17).
- USA Pears (most popular pear varieties) (Accessed: 1/17/17).
- WSU Extension Western WA Variety Trials ( includes, apple, pear, cherry, other stone fruit)
- Sweet Cherry Cultivars for the Fresh Market (PNW bulletin #604) (pdf; good all-around guide on sweet cherries)
- Vanwell Nursery (apple, crab apple, pear, cherry, other stone fruit, rootstocks) (Accessed: 1/17/17).
- C&O Nusery (apples, crab apple, pear, cherry) (Accessed: 1/17/17).
- Willow Drive Nursery (pdf; of apple, pear, cherry, other stone fruit, rootstocks – listed under catalogs) (Accessed: 1/17/17).
- Orange Pippin (apples worldwide) (Accessed: 1/17/17).
Using Cultivar vs. Variety
Commercial tree fruit are often referred to as “varieties”. But in fact, most are really cultivars. What’s the difference? “Varieties” occur in nature and the seedlings grown from seed of a variety will have the same traits as the parent. Cultivars, on the other hand, are not necessarily true-to-type if propagated by seed. The word cultivar is derived from “cultivated variety”, meaning that it has been selected, bred and propagated to maintain desirable characteristics. You can tell by the name if you have a variety or a cultivar. Variety names are correctly written in italicized lowercase letters often preceded by the word variety or its abbreviation ‘var.’ It may also have single quotes around the word. A cultivar name is always written with the first letter capitalized and never italicized or within quotations. It may also be preceded by the word cultivar, or more commonly by the abbreviation ‘cv.’
Click on the headings below to view variety descriptions and images.
There are over 7,500 varieties of apples grown worldwide. But only a relative few are suitable to be grown and marketed in Washington and the Pacific Northwest (PNW). The top varieties are Red Delicious (34%), Gala (19%), Fuji (13%), Granny Smith (12%), Golden Delicious (10%), Cripps Pink (3%), Honeycrisp (3%), Braeburn (3%), and 3% ‘Other’ (Bestapples.com). In addition to the major varieties, there are “boutique” varieties found only in specialty stores or fruit stands and club varieties grown by select growers. Below is a thumbnail gallery of the most common PNW varieties arranged by relative harvest timing. Clicking on an image will open the full description window. (List of varieties came from the Washington State Apple Commission.) Apple production facts can be found on the Northwest Horticultural Council’s website.
There are more than 3,000 pear varieties grown worldwide. Of those, only ten principal varieties are grown commercially in the Pacific Northwest, accounting for 80% of the US fresh pear production (NASS 2019 NCTF Report). These varieties were selected based on quality traits and compatibility with our growing conditions. Pears fall into two categories based on when harvest begins: summer pears start harvest in August; winter pears start harvest late August and go well into September. Summer pears include Bartlett varieties (both golden and crimson), Starkrimson and Tosca. The rest of the European-type pears fall into the winter pear group. The top pear varieties grown in Washington and Oregon are listed in the thumbnail gallery below arranged by their harvest group: Summer or Winter. There are also several Asian pear varieties grown in our region. We have included Asian varieties in a separate tab. Clicking on a thumbnail image will open a window with a full-size image with a brief description of the variety. (The list of varieties, descriptions, and images were provided mostly from usapears.com.)
Two main types of cherries are produced in the United States: sweet cherries and tart or ‘sour’ cherries. Washington, California, and Oregon are the primary sweet cherry producing states, accounting for more than 95 percent of the quantity produced nationwide (NASS 2018 Cherry Report). The primary tart cherry producing state is Michigan, which typically accounts for nearly 75 percent of tart cherry production. U.S. sweet cherry production (utilized) in 2018 totaled 344,400 tons valued at more than $637.7 million. Washington led the nation in sweet cherry production in 2017, with 245,000 tons (NASS 2019 Tree Fruit Report) The United States is the third-largest producer of cherries in the world. The European Union-27 is the leading cherry producer, followed by Turkey (FAS 2012). Additional Pacific Northwest cherry facts can be found on the Northwest Horticultural Council website.
“Bing” has been one of the most important sweet cherry varieties grown in the Pacific Northwest as recently as the 1990’s. “Bing” is so commonly known that it is used as a basis of comparison when discussing sweet cherry selections. For example, ripening time for a variety may be referred to as being a set number of days before or after “Bing”. In recent years, there has been more interest in improved varieties leading to extensive plantings of newer selections. Some traits that breeders are selecting for include early maturing, self-fertility, rain cracking resistance and stem characteristics. The majority of the newer varieties grown in the Pacific Northwest were produced or evaluated by the following breeding programs: WSU-IAREC – Prosser (Olmstead et al 2000); the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre (PARC) Summerland, B.C., Canada; and the OSU cultivar evaluation program. Additional sweet cherry variety and/or rootstock trials are carried out at WSU’s Western Washington Maritime Research and Extension Center in Mt. Vernon, WA and at WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, WA and at their associated Sunrise research orchard. A few other sweet cherry varieties grown in lesser amounts are a product of the New York State Agricultural Research Station at Geneva, NY and from Michigan State University’s breeding program.
The most commonly grown sweet cherry varieties in the Pacific Northwest are shown below in the thumbnail gallery and are arranged by color group. Click on the image to open the full view for information about each variety.