Thumbnail

Other names and notes

Trees and Shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden
The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

Common
Name

Scientific
Name

Plant
Family

Garden
Location

Flowering
Season

Wild Plum
Prunus americana Marshall
Rose (Rosaceae)
Upland and Woodland
Mid-April to Mid- May depending on season

(American Plum) A moderate size fruit tree located in the Upland Garden on the first hill at Guidebook station 46. Newer plants in the Woodland Garden. Twigs are more reddish-brown with sharp pointed buds. The plant can be a large shrub or grow into tree size of up to 15 feet high with a crooked trunk and stiff lateral branches forming a spreading crown. The American Champion plum (in Fairfax County, VA) is 18 feet high and 3.8 feet in diameter. Leaves are alternate, stalked, an elongated oval with a tapering tip, have sharply toothed margins, sometimes double toothed. Flowering stems are usually grayish and scaly with age. Older flowering stems also have short twigs, marked with scars or small buds and with thorn-like tips. Horizontal lenticels are visible. Older bark has irregular ridges and exfoliated patches. Flowers: The one inch wide white 5-part flowers are single or in small clusters (umbels) of 2 to 5 flowers and occur along the stems, at the juncture of stem and leaf, at the same time as the leaves begin to unfurl. They are perfect, with numerous stamens whose exerted white filaments have yellow anthers. There is a single style. The green calyx has five pointed lobes. Flowers are individually stalked but the cluster is sessile. Fruits are globose to oblong drupes about one inch in diameter, yellow to red, edible and often used in making jams and jellies. Inside the drupe is a single brown flattened oval stone. Fruit production is heavier every other year.

Habitat: P. americana is a woodland species, common in woodlands and savannas and woody draws of the Great Plains. The root system is fairly shallow and spreading allowing vegetative regeneration forming thickets. It grows in a variety of soils, prefers full sun, but must have at least 16 inches of moisture per year. Names: The large genus, Prunus, is named after the Latin word for the plum. The species name, americana, refers to 'of America' as this is a new world species. This is the most broadly distributed wild plum in North America. The author name for the plant classification, ‘Marshall’ refers to Humphry Marshall (1722-1801), American Botanist, who published in 1785 - Arboretum Americanum: The American Grove, an Alphabetical Catalogue of Forest Trees and Shrubs, Natives of the American United States.

American Plum in Upland Garden American PLum in Upland Garden American Wild Plum
Above: The large Wild Plums in the Upland Garden (left) and a newer on the central hill (center). Below: Individually stalked flowers appear in small unstalked clusters (umbels) all along the stems at the juncture of stem and leaf.
American Plum
Below center: Flowering stems are usually grayish and scaly with age; older flowering stems also have short twigs, marked with scars or small buds and with thorn-like tips.
Wild Plum bark
Branch with thorns
Flower covered brance
Bark: Above left: Trunk bark of the large plum in the Upland Garden shows the characteristic irregular ridges and exfoliated patches of large older bark. Lower left and lower center: Horizontal lenticels are visible on older stems (left) and younger stems that still retain a reddish-brown color (center). Twigs (lower right) are reddish-brown as are the buds which are sharp pointed.
American Plum stem lenticels American Plum Stem lenticel American Plum twig
American Plum leaf
Above: A typical leaf of the wild plum Below: A cluster of young plums just starting to turn yellow. In the wild, most will not remain on the plant long enough to turn red.
American Plum fruit
 
 

Notes: Eloise Butler did not note this plant on her early census of plants in the original woodland area. P. americana is listed on Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden. This census was taken after the upland addition to the Garden was acquired in 1944 and may have been growing there at that time but Martha had also noted in growing in the lower Garden in 1939. The plant is native to Minnesota and is found in most counties with the exceptions being mostly in the far north central counties and some in the south where there is little forest growth remaining. In the top left photo above, the old tree on the right side of the photo is of sufficient stature that it is listed as a Minneapolis Heritage Tree. (Article - Heritage Trees in the Garden). Wild Plum is on the "threatened list" in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Eloise Butler wrote: "From a distance thickets of the thorny, still leafless, Wild Plum now seem covered with snowflakes, the illusion being due to myriads of white blossoms. We find the resultant red and yellow, somewhat puckery fruit not unpalatable, if the birds do not forestall us in harvesting it."

Wild plum is valuable for wildlife cover and food. It has a suckering habit, forming dense thickets that provide good bird habitat. It has shallow, wide spreading roots and when young is easily transplanted. The wood is heavy and hard. Martha Crone wrote in the April 1961 issue of The Fringed Gentian™ "The trees in May offer many lovely sights, but none finer than when in bloom, especially the wild cherries, plum and hawthorns."

 
 

 
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applies. Distribution principally from Wi, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.  
©2014 Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. All photos and text are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org" 032014