Florida's Native Plum Trees
Four native plums grow in Florida, ranging from American plum (Prunus americana), which grows in many parts of the U.S., to scrub plum (Prunus geniculata), which grows in only five counties in Central Florida.
The native, deciduous American plum yields a festive display of small, white, fragrant flowers and 1/2-inch-wide, fleshy, yellow plums that you can eat fresh or use to make a flavorful jelly. It grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3b through 8 and in Florida is planted near patios and decks where it attracts butterflies.
American plum grows from 15 to 20 feet tall and 12 to 18 feet wide, typically with multiple trunks, although it can be pruned to grow from a single, short trunk. It grows best with some shade and some sun. If you're growing more than one, space them 3 to 5 feet apart. It is easy to maintain, will grow in sandy soil and will tolerate drought. The plum has a tendency to be invasive and self-seeds into neighboring landscapes.
Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia) is a multi-trunked, deciduous, native plum tree that grows from 12 to 20 feet tall, spreading 15 to 20 feet wide in USDA zones 6a through 9b.
Chickasaw plum shows white to cream or gray flowers in spring, later yielding fleshy, round plums 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter. The plums change from yellow to red as they ripen. They are good for eating fresh or making jams and jellies.
It will grow in a range of soils in partial shade to full sun and has a high tolerance for drought. In its native habitat Chickasaw plum spreads by growing sprouts from the base of its trunks. It is useful for planting in a lawn or beside a deck or patio. The plum has a tendency to become weedy and invasive.
The deciduous flatwood plum (Prunus umbellata) grows in USDA zones 8a through 9b. It produces spectacular clusters of white spring blossoms.
Flatwood plum usually develops one trunk, growing 12 to 20 tall and wide. It yields dry or hard, round purple plums 1/2 to 1 inch wide on drooping, thorny branches. The edible plums are tart to sweet.
Flatwood plum will grow in partial shade or full sun, but if you grow it in sandy soil it will do best with some afternoon shade and supplemental watering.
Flatwood plum works well as a specimen tree or along a street and is especially useful for growing under power lines or places with limited overhead space.
The deciduous scrub plum is native to parts of Lake, Orange, Osceola, Polk and Highland counties in central Florida, USDA zones 9a and 9b. It grows 4 to 12 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide with zigzagging, thorny branches. It show small white flowers in spring and yielding a 1/5-to-1-inch wide bitter, dull reddish plum.
Although it may be available in nurseries specializing in native plants, the scrub plum is in decline in its native range where it is often found in fire lanes and road cuts.