American Plum (Americana)

The American Plum (Americana) is generally described as a perennial tree or shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The American Plum (Americana) has green foliage and inconspicuous white flowers, with a moderate amount of conspicuous red fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the mid spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The American Plum (Americana) has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a moderate growth rate. At maturity, the typical American Plum (Americana) will reach up to 24 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 24 feet.

The American Plum (Americana) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have high vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -38°F. has none tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Ethnobotanic: Wild plum fruit was and still is extensively consumed by the Indians of the prairies, either fresh or made into a sauce (Kindscher 1987). The Pawnee, Kiowa, Comanche, Omaha, Teton Dakota, Lakota, Comanche, Crow, Assiniboin, and Kiowa ate the wild plums or chickasaw plums (Prunus angustifolia) fresh or dried. Plums were also pitted and dried, although the Pawnee reportedly often dried them without removing the pits (Gilmore 1977). Early explorers and travelers of the Prairie Bioregion often mentioned wild plums in their journals and diaries and also appreciated them as food (Kindscher 1987). Today wild plums are eaten fresh, canned, preserved in jams and jellies, baked, and made into fruit roll-ups.

The Omaha scraped and boiled the bark from the roots of the wild plum and applied it to abrasions (Gilmore 1977, Kindscher 1992). They bound together the twigs of the wild plum and made them into a broom. The Cheyenne mixed the crushed

fruits of the wild plum with salt to treat mouth disease (Hart 1981). They also crushed and boiled the small rootlets and the bark of older wild plum with the roots of the scarlet thorn (Crataegus chrysocarpa) as a diarrhea remedy (Youngken 1925). The Mesquakies used the root bark of the wild plum to cure canker sores around the mouth (Smith 1928).

The Teton Dakota used the sprouts or young growth of the wild plum as a wand in the “waunyampi” ceremony (Gilmore 1977). This is an offering or form of prayer, consisting of a wand made from a peeled and painted wild plum sprout. The “waunyampi” ceremony is usually offered with prayers for the sick.

The various species of wild plum are astringent and sedative, and the bark is a tonic (Smythe 1901). The roots and bark contain a bitter substance as well as a substance called phloretin, which is an active agent against gram positive and negative bacteria (Lewis and Elvin-Lewis 1977).

Wildlife: Wild plums are eaten by turkey, black bear, and wolves (Thwaites 1904). Foxes, black-headed grosbeaks, and ring-tailed cats utilize wild plums (Martin et al. 1951). Plum thickets often furnish valuable protective shelter.

Conservation: Wild plums have been recommended for their drought resistance and widely planted in shelter belts in the western Great Plains (Jerry Kaiser pers. comm. 1999). They also make good wildlife habitat and are effective in erosion control because their roots hold the soil. Their thorny branches catch tumbleweeds, leaves, and other plant materials, which, when windstorms occur during times of drought, provide an effective means of slowing wind erosion of soil.

General Characteristics

General: Rose Family (Rosaceae). Wild plum (Prunus americana) is a shrub or small tree 3-8 m (3-24 ft) tall, and are usually forming thickets. The small branches are sometimes spiny. The leaves are alternate, egg-shaped to oval, 6-10 cm (2-4 in) long. The upper leaf surface is shiny green and the lower surface is slightly hairy; leaf margins are sharply toothed. The white roseaceous flowers are in-groups of 2-5 at the ends of branchlets. Flowers usually appear before the leaves in April and May. There are five separate, oval petals 8-12 mm (5/16-1/2 in) long. The reddish-purple plums are fleshy, oval, 2.0-2.7 cm (0.75-1.25 in) long; each fruit contains one seed. Wild plum flowers are insect pollinated.

Required Growing Conditions

For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site. The range is from Massachusetts west to Manitoba and Montana, south to Utah, Colorado, and Oklahoma, east to Florida, and north to New York (Stephens 1975).

Cultivation and Care

Adaptation: Wild plum grows in prairies, woodlands, pastures, and along roadsides and riverbanks.

Wild plums can be planted from seed and they are relatively easy to transplant. Plant in well drained soil; wild plum tolerates shade. Flowering occurs in April and May and fruit ripens from August to September. The plant has fruit every year.

Propagation from Cuttings: Prunus americana cuttings are not easy to root. Hardwood cuttings taken in late January have been rooted. Hardwood cuttings are those made of matured, dormant hardwood after leaves have abscised and before new shoots emerge in the spring. Material should be taken from healthy, moderately vigorous stock plants grown in full sunlight. Central and basal portions (not the tip) of a shoot make the best cuttings. Cuttings vary from 10 to 76 cm (4 to 30 in). Ensure that at least two nodes are included in the cutting; the basal cut is just below a node and the top cut is 1.3 to 2.5 cm (0.5-1 in) above a node.

It is important that hardwood cuttings not dry out during handling and storage. Dip bases of hardwood cuttings with IBA at 20,000 ppm liquid formulation to promote rooting. Alternatively, treat with 2% IBA talc. This will promote rooting on both suckers and stem cuttings. Dip the cuttings into root promoting hormone, IBA at 2000 ppm, for a few seconds, then keep in the dark at temperatures of 10º (50ºF). Plant the cuttings in open ground in prepared holes with good potting soil. Firm the soil around the cuttings and water. To ensure survival of cuttings through the following winter in cold climates, the potted cuttings should be kept in heated cold frames or poly-houses to hold the temperature between 0-7°C (32-45°F). Rooted cuttings that had shoot growth in the fall, but were not given nitrogen, had the best over-winter survival in a cold frame with microfoam. Propagation from Seed: Harvest the fruit in the summer when ripe (the fruit turns dark purple), usually in August. Remove the pulp or fruit from the seed. Seeds can be extracted by maceration and recovered by flotation. Put the seed in a 50ºF cooler over the winter. For prolonged storage, seeds must be air dried and stored in sealed containers at cold temperatures. The seeds can also be planted outdoors in the fall so they are naturally “cold stratified.” Natural germination occurs predominantly in the first or second year after seedfall, depending on the year.

If sowing seed in the fall, it is important to sow early enough so seeds can pre-chill before seedbeds freeze. This can be overcome by mulching the seedbeds. Seedlings reach suitable size for transplanting in one to two years. Cold stratifying up to 6 months in a moist environment can break seed dormancy. Wild plum seeds have fairly low germination. There are 6.5 seeds per gram.

General Upkeep and Control

Wild plum grows on the edges of prairies and woodlands. Traditional resource managers burned this community regularly thus maintaining the patchwork mosaic of prairie and woods on the landscape (Thwaites 1906). Burning provided habitat for wild plum to become established, and the nutrient enrichment increased fruit production. The branches of wild plum were often pruned or cut back to increase production.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Moderate
General Type Tree, Shrub
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Long
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Mid Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Single Stem
Drought Tolerance None
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 24
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color White
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -38
Soil Depth for Roots 24
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 5–7 pH
Precipitation Range 16–16 inches/yr
Planting Density 700–1200 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 24
Minimum Frost-Free Days 100 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Low
CaCO3 Tolerance High
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Medium
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA