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American plum is a popular ornamental tree with a short trunk, wide-spreading branches, black scaly bark, and a broad crown. Masses of small white flower clusters appear in April and May, attracting numerous pollinators. The plums that follow ripen to a shiny, bright red in August or September. Fall foliage ranges from electric red to pale yellow. The plums are consumed by many kinds of birds and other wildlife.


American plum can be found growing in mixed-hardwood communities, along woodland, swamp, lake or pond edges, on shrublands, riparian zones, and occasionally open prairies. Will form thickets, if allowed, providing shelter and nesting sites. Quite striking when grouped along a pond or lake edge. Wonderful for erosion control, and it tolerates several days of flooding.


Plant Characteristics:

On average this tree grows to 10-20’ tall with a similar spread.


Fruits best in full sun, but tolerates part shade.


Prefers moist, well-drained soil, but accepts clay, loam, dry and sandy soils. Drought tolerant once established.


At least two plants are needed for successful fruiting.


Wildlife Value:

Prunus supports 381 species of Lepidoptera larva in central Ohio, including the eastern tiger swallowtail and spring azure butterflies. Birds and animals eat the fruit, and bumblebees and other pollinators make happy wings to the flowers. Low, thick, thorny branches provide protection and nesting sites for many different types of birds and small mammals.  Their ability to control erosion reduces silting into waterways, helping aquatic life.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Substances found in the bark, twigs and leaves break down into a toxic substance known as hydrocyanic acid (HA). Taken in small amounts, HA can stimulate respiration; an infusion made from the twigs has been used to treat asthma. The inner bark can be used as a disinfecting poultice for wounds, to make cough syrup, or a natural diuretic. Having astringent properties, it can also be used for diarrhea.


Sour/sweet fruits can be used for making preserves, jellies, pies and wine. 


Sometimes used as windbreaks by farmers. 

Plum, American, Prunus americana

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