Elephant heart plums (Prunus salicina), or simply elephant plums, are a decorative fruit tree that produces great-than-average fruit yields known for it sweet, delicious flavor and striking interior color. Elephant heart plums are so named because of the oblong-shaped fruit with a rounded top that is reminiscent of a heart.
Elephant heart plum trees have a wide growing range, from zones 5 through 9, or most of the United States. They require 650 chill hours for fruit production, which means these trees require slightly over the equivalent of 27 days per year in temperatures between 45 – 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
This chill period causes the tree’s dormancy hormone to break down, signaling to the tree that it is time to break the winter dormancy and to start producing flowers for the next growing season. Temperatures below 32 degrees do not count toward the chilled hours.
Trees perform best in arid or semi-arid zones and are cold hardy down to -15 degrees.
Plant trees in loamy, well-drained soil. They do best in full sun.
Elephant heart plum trees require 12 to 15 gallons of water per week May through September. In periods of drought, deep water the trees at least once per month.
Elephant Heart Plums Appearance
The mature tree will reach 18 to 20 feet tall. Some nurseries do sell a dwarf varietal that can be smaller, around 10 to 13 feet. Its growth is more narrow and upright than more commonly available plum trees.
Flowers will be fragrant and pruple.
In the fall, the leaves turn yellow before dropping.
Elephant heart plums are most desired for their fruit production rather than their ornamental value. Tree will begin producing fruit within 3 to 6 years. Trees bloom in March.
Elephant heart plums are among the few plums that are self-pollinating, making them a good choice for small yards or areas that need a stand-alone tree.
Most plum trees require the planting of at least one other tree of the same fruit nearby to reproduce, and these plums will also benefit from that practice. Planting another plum varietal, especially the Santa Rosa or Ozark Premier, within fifty feet will improve the growing of the tree and fruit production.
An indication that your tree requires a nearby tree for cross-pollination is that it flowers but never produces fruit. Wind, bees, bird, and other insects can all provide pollination.
Elephant heart plum trees will withstand vigorous pruning for ornamental purposes to limit their height and the fruit production will also benefit from regular pruning.
Pruning maintains the health of the tree by preventing breakage in bad weather and by removing dying growth that can open the tree to pests and infection.
Prune during frost-free periods in mid-to-late winter for improved fruit production or during July is bacterial canker is a concern. Remove most of the vertical branches and shorten horizontal branches to achieve the desired tree shape.
Pests and Disease
Elephant heart plums are generally pest-resistant, but they can succumb to bacterial canker.
Bacterial canker infects the stems and leaves of plum and cherry trees, and it causes sunken marks in the bark and holes in leaves that look like shotgun pellets have hit the tree. Prune damaged areas and apply a tree wound paint. The wound paint will prevent reinfection.
Plan to harvest Elephant Heart Plums in August or September. This is one of the latest-producing plum varietals.
Expect even the ripe fruit to have mottled yellow spots. A cloudy film on the purple skin is also normal.
They are rarely found in stores because they are delicate and easily bruised. The tenderness of the fruit does not lend well to commerical growing and distribution, but home gardeners can quickly pick ripe fruit and carefully store them. Without your own tree, it is unlikely you will see this fruit outside of California.
Elephant Heart Plums produce a large, heart-shaped fruit 7 to 8 inches in diameter, or about the size of a baseball.
The plums have a freestone pit, meaning that the meat of the fruit does not firmly attach to the pit.
They are known for a deep, sweet flavor with little tartness that lends well to eating fresh. Its dark, lucious interior gives it the nickname ‘blood orange’ and makes these fruit a showstopper when display cut or sliced. Imagine having your own tree that produces a fruit even more flavorful than the cherry plum but is impossible to find outside of California farmers’ markets.
Elephant Heart plums are a variation created by Luther Burbank, an American botanist who developed over 800 new strains and varieties of plants before his death in 1926.
He created at least 113 strains of plums, including the elephant heart plum. Vistors can still tour his experimental farm in Sonoma County, California, and view the living trees that resulted from his work.
Before his death, Burbank designated Stark Bros to continue his work, and they still sell the elephant heart plum tree. It is also available through other online nurseries.
These plums are sweet as candy but still back the nutritional heft of ofther plums. The consistency of flavor also makes them a reliable fruit to work with wihout relying on excessive added sugars.
The rich flavor of the fruit make these plums a favorite in many forms, whether eaten alone, sliced in salads, as a topping for savory dishes, or made into a jam for breakfast.
You will find their ease of use far superior to other varietals. The freestone pit makes cleaning the fruit so much easier, and the large size will give you more fruit for your time.
Elephant heart plums are a delicious dessert plum – consider them for a tart, cake, or even a pie.
These trees are known for high yields, over fifty pounds. This is even more likely to be true when they are cross-pollinated. Plan to freeze these sweet treats if you want to keep them all for yourself.