Bing is a cultivar of the wild or sweet cherry (Prunus avium) that originated in the Pacific Northwest, in Milwaukie, Oregon, United States. The Bing remains a major cultivar in Oregon, Washington, California, Wisconsin and British Columbia. It is the most produced variety of sweet cherry in the United States.
The Bing cherry is not self-fertile (you need another cherry to cross-pollinate).
Modern day cherry production began in the mid-1800’s. Peter Dougherty was a Presbyterian missionary living in northern Michigan. In 1852, he planted cherry trees on Old Mission Peninsula (near Traverse City, Michigan). Much to the surprise of the other farmers and Native Americans who lived in the area, Dougherty’s cherry trees flourished and soon other residents of the area planted trees. The area proved to be ideal for growing cherries because Lake Michigan tempers Arctic winds in winter and cools the orchards in summer.
In the Northwestern part of the United States, cherry orchards also flourished. In 1847, Henderson Lewelling planted an orchard in Western Oregon, using nursery stock that he had transported by ox cart from Iowa. Lewelling Farms became known for its sweet cherries with orchards coming into production during the 1870’s and 80’s.
The most famous sweet cherry variety is the Bing cherry; this cherry variety got its name from one of Lewelling’s Chinese workmen. Another sweet cherry variety is the Lambert, which also got its start on Lewelling Farms. The Rainier cherry, a light sweet variety, originated from the cross breeding of the Bing and Van varieties by Dr. Harold W. Fogle at the Washington State University Research Station in Prosser, Washington. The Bing, Lambert, and Rainier varieties together account for more than 95% of the Northwest sweet cherry production.
The cultivar was created as a crossbred graft from the Black Republican cherry in 1875 by Oregon horticulturist Seth Lewelling and his Manchurian Chinese foreman Ah Bing, for whom the cultivar is named.
Ah Bing was reportedly born in China and immigrated to the U.S. in about 1855. He worked as a foreman in the Lewelling family fruit orchards in Milwaukie for about 35 years, supervising other workers and caring for trees. He went back to China in 1889 for a visit. Due to the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 he never returned to the United States. Sources disagree as to whether Ah Bing was responsible for developing the cultivar, or whether it was developed by Lewelling and named in Bing’s honor due to his long service as orchard foreman.