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Publication #FPS492

Prunus americana American Plum1

Edward F. Gilman2

Introduction

Growing 20 feet tall and wide, American plum forms a rounded mass of slender, thorny branches sprouting from a short trunk. In spring, before the 1- to 2-inch-long leaves appear, American plum is festooned with small, white, fragrant flowers that make the trees quite decorative in the presence of other trees, which are often still dormant. The half-inch-diameter fruits that follow are red, ripening to yellow, and are extremely popular with wildlife and people. The plums are either eaten fresh or used to make a delicious jelly.

General Information

Scientific name: Prunus americana
Pronunciation: PROO-nus uh-mair-ih-KAY-nuh
Common name(s): American plum
Family: Rosaceae
Plant type: tree
USDA hardiness zones: 3B through 8 (Fig. 1)
Planting month for zone 7: year round
Planting month for zone 8: year round
Origin: native to Florida
Uses: near a deck or patio; specimen; attracts butterflies
Availability: grown in small quantities by a small number of nurseries

Description

Height: 15 to 20 feet
Spread: 12 to 18 feet
Plant habit: round
Plant density: moderate
Growth rate: moderate
Texture: medium

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate
Figure 1. 

Shaded area represents potential planting range.


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: serrate
Leaf shape: ovate; obovate
Leaf venation: pinnate; reticulate
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: yellow
Fall characteristic: showy

Flower

Flower color: white
Flower characteristic: spring flowering

Fruit

Fruit shape: round
Fruit length: .5 to 1 inch
Fruit cover: fleshy
Fruit color: yellow
Fruit characteristic: attracts birds

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: typically multi-trunked or clumping stems; thorns present; can be trained to grow with a short, single trunk
Current year stem/twig color: brown
Current year stem/twig thickness: thin

Culture

Light requirement: plant grows in part shade/part sun
Soil tolerances: acidic; alkaline; sand; loam; clay;
Drought tolerance: high
Soil salt tolerances: unknown
Plant spacing: 36 to 60 inches

Other

Roots: usually not a problem
Winter interest: no special winter interest
Outstanding plant: not particularly outstanding
Invasive potential: native plant that often reproduces into nearby landscapes
Pest resistance: long-term health usually not affected by pests

Use and Management

Grown occasionally with a short, single leader and used as a patio or residential landscape tree, American plum is usually seen with a multiple trunk planted as a specimen or in a median strip, or planted on 15- to 25-foot centers along the entrance road to a commercial property. It tends to sprout from the base of the trunk, forming multi-stemmed thickets. This is the form most commonly seen in its native habitat on old fields and on other disturbed sites. These may need to be removed regularly to help keep the plant looking neat. It makes a nice addition to the shrub border in the back yard. The crown often leans to one side or the other. Occasional pruning can significantly improve the form of the crown.

A North American native tree, American plum is very easily grown and has no special cultural requirements. It tolerates drought and sandy or clayey soil but does poorly in alkaline pH. These small trees grow quickly but have a relatively short life. This should not stop you from planting the tree since it will serve the landscape well during its life.

Propagation is by seed or cuttings.

Pests and Management

No pests or diseases are of major concern. Tent caterpillar can defoliate trees and could weaken them with repeated defoliations.

Footnotes

1.

This document is FPS492, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date September 1999. Revised June 2007. Reviewed June 2011. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.