American Plum – Prunus americana var. lantana

American Plum – Prunus americana
Family Rosaceae – Rose Family; Fruit Trees

American plum grows wild and as a cultivated fruit tree thoughout its range.  -Rose Family Index-

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American Plum
American Plum in bloom May 8th, near Chicago. [2]
American plum is distributed throughout much of northeastern Canada and a major portion of the United States, although it is less common west of the Great Plains. This native plum occurs from Massachusetts west to Manitoba and western Montana, south through the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico and Arizona, and eastward to northwestern Florida.

American plum is utilized for wildlife habitat and soil stabilization projects in the West. Plummer and others recommend it for use on wet meadow and mountain brush sites in Utah. Although seed dormancy is a problem in almost all species of Prunus, American plum germinates more consistently following cool, moist stratification at 36 to 41 degrees F (2.2-5 deg C) for 90 to 150 days. Vories reported that stratified seed should be planted 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm) deep in the spring or fall; for nursery culture, seeds should be sown at the rate of four seeds per square foot. Seed viability is estimated to be approximately 5 years. This species can also be successfully propagated via stem cuttings.

 Honey Bee on wild plum blossoms
Honey bee on plum blossoms
Tent caterpillars
Plum is often infested with tent caterpillars in springtime.
These pests can strip a tree of foliage in a matter of days.
Tent Caterpillar Tent
This tent was found on wild plum.
It contained about 100 caterpillars and 2 lbs. of scat.

American plum is a native, deciduous, sometimes thicket-forming, erect shrub or small tree. The growth habit of this species can vary considerably; plants range from shrubs approximately 3 feet (1 m) in height to arborescent individuals growing up to 32.8 feet (10 m). On the Great Plains this species typically grows from 9.8 to 26.2 feet (3 to 8 m) tall and is rarely treelike. In Utah, American plum forms thickets reaching heights of up to 16.4 feet (5 m), and treelike individuals are uncommon.

The leaves are somewhat stout with pubescent, usually glandless petioles; twigs often become somewhat spinelike at the tips. White flowers usually appear before the leaves and are borne in fasicles of two to five on the tip of spur branchlets or from axillary buds formed the previous season. Fruits are yellow to red plums (drupes), at least 0.8 inch (2 cm) long with yellow flesh and a compressed stone. Although this species sometimes produces small, hard plums, the fruits are generally fleshy and highly palatable. Occassionally trees cultivated for plums escape and persist. Horticultural varieties can be distinguished from the native species by their larger petals, smaller flower clusters (one to three per node), and sometimes by the gland-tipped teeth of the leaves. [4]


  1. Morton Arboretum, Crabapple: A Tree For All Seasons
  2. American Plum , Morton Arboretum acc. 439-81*1, photos: Bruce Marlin
  3. Morton Arboretum, Crabapples for the Home Landscape
  4. McMurray, N. 1987. "Prunus americana", Fire Effects Information System, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory [2009, December 13]
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Family Rosaceae – Rose Family; Fruit Trees
Containing Hawthorns, Apples, Pears, Cherries, Plums, Peach, Almond, Mountain-Ash and Whitebeam. Rosaceae is a large family of plants with about 3,000 species in ~100 genera. Crabapple and other fruit trees provide some of our most outstanding flowering ornamentals. Tree Encyclopedia | Tree Index | Rosaceae Index