The American plum is as fascinating as it is delicious.
Not only are they native to North America (this means you can find them in the wild if you look hard enough), but they also produce a high annual yield and have beautiful mid-spring blossoms.
Today, I’m going to show you what the American plum is all about – and why it’s a great addition to any backyard orchard!
What Are American Plums?
The American plum (scientific name: Prunus americana) is often called the wild plum.
The tree is often confused with the very similar looking Canada plum, although the fruit itself is quite different (bright red rather than yellow).
Native to North America and widely available, over 200 different varieties have been cultivated, mainly for culinary and ornamental uses, according to the USDA.
The plums can be delicious when eaten fresh, but the taste is highly variable. Sometimes they are perfectly sweet while other times they are quite sour, even bordering on bitter.
Many people prefer to use the American plum in jams, jellies, preserves, or wine rather than eating it fresh.
American Plum History
The American plum is native to North America.
It originally grew over much of the Northeastern and Southeastern United States as well as Southeastern Canada. It also appeared in parts of the Midwest.
The fruit was used extensively by Native Americans as food. The roots were used to make a red dye. The branches served a variety of purposes, including use in the Sun Dance ceremony of the Plains cultures.
Today, the American plum is grown in a wide variety of climates (it’s an extremely tolerant species) for food, as a wind block, and for its beauty.
Thanks to its ample 5-petaled white flowers (during its mid-spring blossom) and long wand-like branches, the American plum tree is a favorite for residential and commercial landscaping.
What Do American Plums Taste Like?
American plums taste tart and sweet (and sometimes bitter) when eaten fresh.
They can also be made into jams, jellies, preserves, and even wine. They are usually sweetened during this process so they aren’t quite as sour.
Wildlife, including deer and birds, also love the taste of American plums.
How to Use American Plums
There are countless ways to use American plums.
Although you can eat them fresh (even straight off the tree), the most common way to use them is in jams, jellies, preserves, and wines.
When looking for American plum recipes, remember that they are often called “wild plums,” so look for wild plum recipes as well.
One of the most unique – as well as one of our favorite – ways to use wild plums in a dish is to freeze the plums for later use as part of a dessert recipe.
Another popular, non-culinary, use is as a wind block. These are most common on farms where the trees are planted close together in a single row to block wind with their thick-growing branches and foliage.
It’s not at all uncommon to see American plum trees growing near stream banks. You might think they grew here naturally – but chances are they were planted.
Their strong roots – and the quick growth of root suckers – help prevent erosion. The American plum root is known for holding up well to a lot of water, so they’re capable of holding tight even during heavy flooding.
The final modern use of these trees is for aesthetic purposes. The trees are considered quite beautiful, both when in blossom and without their flowers. You’ll often see them lining streets or planted as part of residential landscaping.
Health Benefits of the American Plum
Wild plums pack a lot of nutritional value into a small package.
They contain high amounts of beta carotene, vitamin A, and potassium in addition to a wide of other nutrients.
According to WebMD, these nutrients – and American plums in general – help improve digestion and stimulate respiration.
Because they’re high in antioxidants, they have a wide range of other important health benefits, such as improving heart health, controlling blood pressure, reducing blood sugar, and even minimizing anxiety.
The Plains Indians were also known to favor this species of wild plum for their medicinal properties.
Where to Buy an American Plum Tree
American plum seeds can be found for sale online as plum stones or plum pits.
But, perhaps the best bet for the backyard gardener is to plant an American plum sapling to somewhat speed up the growing process.
Because these wild plums still grow in the wild throughout North America (especially in the Northeast and Southeast of the United States), it’s very possible to simply go find a pit and then plant this seed in your own backyard.
How to Grow American Plums
The American plum is a very hardy plant that’s not very demanding about soil type.
That said, it grows best in USDA zones 3 – 8 in the United States and prefers an acidic, well-drained loamy soil.
You can grow this plum from cuttings, seedlings, or even a sapling.
To grow from a seed, plant the fresh plum seeds three inches deep. Remember to mark where you planted the pit.
The best time to plant an American plum seed is in fall. This will allow it to naturally self-stratify during the winter to aid germination in the spring.
Leave the seed on its own through the winter, but check regularly for sprouting. Once sprouting starts in the spring, keep the plant moist as it continues to grow.
American plums grow between 8 inches and 2 feet each year. The fully-grown height is up to around 15 feet, although they usually top out at around 12 feet.
No fertilizer or added nutrients are needed to facilitate growth.
The tree grows well in full sun or partial shade. In fact, this species thrives as an understory tree in forests, although they won’t grow as tall here.
Because the American plum is self-pollinating, you only need to plant one. But, do note that planting two or more near each other will certainly increase your annual yield.
Unfortunately, this plum species is prone to pest attacks from the American plum borer, a damaging moth, that can be defeated with carbaryl treatment.
Thankfully, this type of plum is resistant to most plum tree diseases, including a high resistant to the all-too-common black knot fungus (although it’s not immune).
Other Fruits Like the American Plum
The American plum is often confused with the Canada plum.
Although the trees and blossoms look similar, the fruits themselves are markedly different with the American plum appearing as a bright red rather than a yellow.
Additionally, the Canada Plum is generally much larger than the American variant.
American Plum FAQ
Here are answers to a few of the most frequently asked questions about American plums.
Can You Eat an American Plum?
Yes, the American plum is edible. Although it can be eaten fresh, most people prefer it as a jam, jelly, or preserve due to its tartness.
How Fast Do American Plum Trees Grow?
American plum trees typically grow between 12 and 18 inches per year. They reach between 12 and 15 feet when fully grown under ideal conditions.
Where Do American Plums Grow?
American plum is quite hardy and is grown across most of North America (and elsewhere). Its natural habitat is the Northeast and Southeast United States (as well as southeastern Canada).
The American plum is an awesome tree for your garden, orchard, or backyard.
We know you’ll appreciate the delicious fruit (including its lovely aroma) and the beautiful springtime blossoms.
Best of all – this type of plum tree is very easy to grow throughout most of the United States with little care or maintenance.
In fact, it grows so well that it’s been known to escape cultivation thanks to squirrels and other critters carrying off and then dropping its seeds!
Let us know about your experiences with the American plum in the comments below.