P&PDL Picture of the Week for
July 27, 2009

Flowering Plum

Janna Beckerman, Assistant Professor of Plant Pathology, Purdue University

Flowering plum (Prunus spp.) trees are popular, ornamental landscape plants. These trees have been selected for their flowers, as opposed for their fruit production. For this reason, fruit development is rare, and can cause surprise and confusion in the homeowner that wasn’t expecting fruit, as was the case of this homeowner (Figure 1-3). Furthermore, in the Midwest, late spring frosts often kill early flowers, preventing fruit production. As ornamental trees, many of these plants are selected for their dark foliage and pink flowers, or for their dwarf, pendent or weeping forms. Flowering plum trees are among the earliest bloomers in the spring, usually mid to late April. The single or double flowers appear on the branches before the leaves emerge, and are often sweetly fragrant. Each flower is about ¾ inch wide and depending on the variety, and may be white or pink. However, this early blooming is often the reason fruit production fails to occur.

The name of this variety, purchased almost a decade ago and only fruiting this year, is unknown, but suspected to be P. salicina or a P. salicina hybrid, possibly ‘Burbank.’ P. salicina is a small deciduous tree native to China. This plum, like ‘Burbank’, is a natural semi-dwarf cultivar. The fruit, red in color with a deep yellow flesh has a very good flavor. The plum is semi-freestone, which means it partially separates from the pit, but not as well as a true freestone plum. Sometimes called ‘Satsuma plum’, P. salicina should not be confused with the Ume, the Japanese name for P. mume, a related species of plum (but called Japanese apricot or Chinese plum) also grown in Japan, Korea, and China; or P. japonica, the Korean cherry. Most flowering plums in the Midwest are Japanese flowering plums (P. cerasifera).

Special thanks to Ed Fackler, for assisting in the identification of this tree!

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Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab Purdue Cooperative Extension Service