1083 Prunus americanaCommon Names: wild plum, American plum Family: Rosaceae (rose Family)
With leaves that are alternate, ovate to elliptical, finely toothed on the margins, 3-4 in (7-10 cm) long, and deciduous, American plum is a pretty ordinary looking Prunus, similar to choke cherry (P. virginiana), pin cherry (P. pensylvanica), and black cherry (P. serotina), among others. One thing that is different is that American plum has distinctive light tan colored bark which is smooth with horizontal slits on young trees, and becomes shaggy and exfoliating in older specimens. Also, American plum has sharp thorns on the tips of some of the twigs. American plum gets up to 20-40 ft (6-10 m) in height with a rounded, symmetrical crown. The tips of the leaves are acuminate. (That is, the sides of the leaves become concave as they taper to a terminal point.) The flowers are fragrant and borne on last year's wood about the time the leaves emerge in early spring. Flowers are about an inch (2.5 cm) across, slightly larger than those of other North American Prunus, and the tips of the sepals and center of the flower where the petals come together are suffused with pink which contrasts nicely with the pure white petals. The fruit is almost perfectly round, yellowish brown to reddish purple, and about an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter.
Two other southern plums are similar to American plum: Chickasaw plum (P. angustifolia) and flatwoods plum (P. umbellata) do not have the characteristic light buff colored exfoliating bark; their flowers are smaller and lack the pink suffusion characteristic of American plum; and their leaf tips are acute rather than acuminate. Hybridization between American plum and Japanese plum (P. salicina) has yielded several cultivars that produce dessert quality fruits, including 'Grenville' and 'South Dakota'.
Prunus americana occurs nearly throughout the United States, but its original, native, range was probably confined to southeastern Canada and the eastern half of the U.S., south to northern Florida. This is a shrub or tree of rich, relatively open woodlands and elevated ridges in bottomland swamps and floodplain forests. American plum sometimes grows in hedge rows and thickets along roadways, but not as characteristically as other Prunus species, particularly Chickasaw plum.
CultureLight: American plum does fine in mottled shade, but best in full sun. Moisture: Water weekly for a few months after planting, then the plant should be able to tolerate normal dry spells within its native range. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 8. Propagation: Fresh seeds should be kept warm for a couple months, then chilled for 2-4 months before planting. Seeds may take two years to germinate. Cuttings are difficult to root. Use young, fast growing, soft wooded tips under mist with bottom heat and cross your fingers.
Mature American plum trees have beautiful bark, and that alone is enough reason to have one. In spring time the tree is covered with beautiful white blossoms that gradually fade to pink before dropping. The flowers attract bees and other native insects. The fruits are edible for people and wildlife. This is a fine, handsome specimen tree that doesn't get very big and can tolerate some shade from the larger oaks and pines. You will need two specimens to get fruit.
The genus Prunus includes the plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, sloes, almonds, and cherries - over 400 species in all.
Steve Christman 6/12/08; updated 6/18/08, 3/29/09, 9/2/12