Native Plant of the Week: American Plum ~ Prunus americana

American Plum ~ Prunus americana
This small native tree makes a great addition to open, sunny, well drained landscapes. It is extremely showy when in flower, and can reach heights of about 12 to 15 feet. Flowering early in the spring, the 5 petaled white flowers are amazingly fragrant and attract all sorts of emerging pollinating insects. In Minnesota, flowers start to open in early May.

We have planted a couple of ~ 6 foot single-stemmed American Plum trees in our yard that we purchased from Out Back Nursery. One is at the edge of a Gray Dogwood thicket in almost full sun, and the other is near our front door so we don't miss out on the flower fragrance.

American Plum is often not single stemmed in the wild. There will usually be several stems forming a multi-stemmed tree or thicket. It is considered an early successional species, taking advantage of sunny openings along field-woodland edges as well as at the edges of old prairies.

The light gray stems of American Plum are often mistakenly cut by people thinking it is a young invasive Buckthorn stem (Rhamnus cathartica), especially when both are without leaves. Make sure you check the buds and stems closely.

By early June, the pollinated flowers are forming green plums (drupes). These plums continue to ripen throughout the summer turning from a bright green in June to yellow in August and fully ripening by early September with a reddish-yellow skin.

The plums are very sweet and worth collecting before they fall to the ground. I harvested these 3 plums from our tree that we planted in the spring. Not a huge bounty, but as the tree grows I'm looking forward to more fruit.

Although this native is from the Cherry genus (Prunus), I have not found that the rabbits browse on the stems or branches as you might suspect.

The multi-stemmed thickets that form are valuable for "bird nesting, loafing and roosting, and animal loafing and bedding. Twigs and foliage provide a highly preferred browse for whitetail and mule deer." (USDA Plants Database Factsheet)

American Plum is native to most of North America except the western most States and Provinces and Texas.