The American Plum or Wild Plum can grow as a small tree or a shrub. It can be seen growing in the wild and in home landscapes individually or several together as a hedge.
The American Plum can grow to about 8 feet tall. The picture above shows a small plum tree. In the shrub form, they can form dense thickets, especially on the sides of gulches in foothills. The older bark is thick and gray, and the twigs are reddish to gray.
The twigs end in coarse thorns. The leaves are long ovals (ovoid) with double serrated edges like a saw blade. The plums, which are edible, are reddish-purple and are about 1 inch in diameter with a single seed inside.
Scientific Name and Plant Family Information
The Scientific name is Prunus americana. Prunus is the ancient Latin name of the plum. Not surprisingly, prunes are dried plums, although generally prunes in the stores are from a species called European Plums rather than American Plums.
It is in the plant family Rosaceae (Rose), which also includes apples, roses, strawberries, cherries and almonds.
Plants in the Rosaceae family can be trees, shrubs or herbs. The flowers of these plants typically have 5 petals and have a distinctive fuzzy-looking center containing many stamens (which contain the pollen of the plant).
Through the Seasons
In the spring, prior to leafing out, there are white flowers in clusters of 2 to 5. They have 5 petals and many stamens (which contain the pollen) in the center of the petals. In the fall, the fruits start turning from green to reddish-purple, and the leaves turn red.
Native or Non-Native?
The American Plum is native to this area and grows on rocky slopes, canyons and along streams. It can be found east of the Rockies and in southeast Colorado at elevations from 3,500 to 8,700 feet.
Where to find in Willow Spring Open Space
American Plum trees are along the trail at the South end of the Open Space, just on the west side of the bridge over Willow Creek.
Did You Know?
The American Plum provides food for animals, birds, insects and people. Plums can be eaten plain or made into good jam. Stay away from the eating the seeds; they contain amygdalin, which causes cyanide poisoning if eaten.
- Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification, by Thomas J. Elpel, 1967
- Flora of Colorado, by Jennifer Ackerfield, 2015
- Colorado Flora, Eastern Slope, A Field Guide to the Vascular Plants, Fourth Edition, by William A. Weber and Ronald C. Wittmann, 2012
- Colorado Native Plant Database Data Portal, Colorado State University
- Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountain Region, Denver Botanic Gardens, 2018