When heading to a site visit in western Connecticut in early spring, I was stunned by a huge thicket of American Plum (Prunus americana), so resplendent with flowers it made me pull over. It was growing in the humblest of locations at the edge of a very unassuming parking lot at the side of Rt. 202 and was clearly untended but had formed a huge hedge as neat and floriferous as though it was being tended by a team of gardeners.
While many people are very familiar with other northeastern native cherries, some might be surprised to learn we have native plums here as well. By no means rare, American Plum is nowhere near as common as the seemingly omnipresent Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) or Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana).
American Plum has all the marks of a desirable landscape species. It flowers much earlier than most of our native trees and blooms prolifically with fragrant, white blossoms. These blossoms turn to pinkish-purple edible fruits in mid to late summer and are enjoyed by wildlife and humans alike. In autumn it can have rich red foliage color which drops to reveal glossy, chocolate brown bark in winter. It also tolerates nearly any growing condition but for extreme shady, wet, or dry spots and is very adaptable to both low and high pH soils.
The only potential drawback to this plant is its tendency to sucker and form dense thickets, and the fact that it does grow large, if widely spaced and often infrequent, thorns. That said these two characteristics give it the potential to be an ideal hedge species. It’s also worth mentioning that it can be found growing as a single-stem tree as well, so maybe with increased cultivation a reliably tree-from selection might be found.
Likely due to these last two points this plant is unfortunately rare in the nursery trade. It can be found, however, often from restoration nurseries, and cultivars do exist (mostly related to fruit color and yield), although they can be even more rare than the straight species.
While it can form a thicket, be thorny, and hard to source, the combination of flowers, fruit, fall, color, showy bark and hardiness make American Plum a tree well worth further exploration for inclusion in your next landscape.