When it comes to cherries on the West Coast, practically speaking there are Bings and not-Bings.
Developed by pioneering Oregon orchardist Seth Llewelling in the mid-1800s, the Bing rules the cherry world. So dominant is the name that some varieties--the Burlat, for example--are sometimes simply called “early Bings” or “California Bings.”
The closest runner-up to the Bing in popularity is the Queen Anne or Royal Anne--the cherries that “blush” in red and cream. You wouldn’t know it by looking, but the two may even be related. Turn-of-the-century horticultural manuals describe the Bing as being descended from the Black Republican, which, in turn, is sometimes attributed to a cross between the Black Tartarian (a few trees of which are still occasionally found in California orchards) and the Napoleon Bigarreau, which, it is parenthetically noted, is also called the Royal Anne. Others describe it as being descended from the Black Eagle, an old English variety, so the connection is unclear.
Obviously, it is a tangled family tree and, truthfully, it is one that does not bear too close an investigation. The differences--once you get past the obvious one of color--really come down to texture. Bings are softer and the Annes are crunchier. Other varieties fall somewhere in between, depending on their state of ripeness.
If you’d like a pretty thorough tasting of the different varieties of cherries--and without having to leave town--check out Cheng Blain’s Circle C Ranch stand at the Wednesday Santa Monica farmers market. Blain grows 21 varieties of cherries in Lake Hughes--just down the street from the Leona Valley--and, depending on what is ripe, you can usually taste a half-dozen varieties at one time. She also grows pie cherries, which are hard to find in Southern California.