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   Prunus americana

Magnoliopsida (Dicot); Family Rosaceae

Common names: Wild Plum, American Plum


By: Maya Strunk (Spring 2001 Independent Study)

Appearance and habitat:

P. americana, a member of the Rosaceae family, is derived from the latin word prounos, which is an ancient name for the plum tree. Wild Plum is a perennial ( grows from year to year) and can grow anywhere from 3-25 feet tall. When grown in an open vast area, the common wild plum is a low branched, rounded tree, but becomes shrubby when grown in thickets or in crowded conditions. This tree grows in woodlands, thickets, ravines, along stream banks, and roadsides (ISUE Forestry 2001). P. americana grows and survives best in deep, moist, well-drained soil and is usually associated with streams (ISUE Forestry 2001).


 Leaves tend to be alternate, simple, single toothed and oval or oblong in shape. They are similar to cherry leaves in shape, but are thinner, less firm, lighter green, and less shiny (ISUE Forestry 2001). The leaves are 3-4" long with pointed tips. Flowers usually appear before the leaves, but can bloom when the leaves first appear. And....these blossoms are very fragrant.  

Photo provided by Paul Wray


The fleshy fruit is sweet and juicy, oval or round, and about 1" in diameter with a rounded seed. Fruit is red to yellow-red when mature in late August, and can be used for jams and jellies. The fruit of wild plum has been used as a food source by many Native American tribes as well as many others. These delicious fruits can be eaten fresh, cooked or dried for winter use.


Medicinal and Non-medicinal uses:

Many Native American tribes have used, and do use wild plum for various purposes. For example, the Omaha used the blossoms as a seasonal indicator of when to plant corn, beans and squash. One use for wild plum that the Dakota have is for entertainment purposes when they use plums as game pieces (Haddock 2000). The Cheyenne used wild plum branches for their Sun Dance Ceremony. The Dakota, Omaha, Pawnee, and Ponca all utilized bundles of twigs bound together as brooms (Haddock 2000). Wild Plum thickets provide excellent wildlife habitat, and helps to prevent soil erosion with their root systems. The bark of wild plum has been used tomake cough medicine, and a tea that alleviates kidney and bladder infections. Wild Plum is also used as a disinfectant wash.

Photo provided by Paul Wray




1. Haddock, Mike (2001). Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses

2. Wray, Paul (2001). Iowa State University Extension-Extension Forestry


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Updated February 13, 2008

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