The Shawnee News-Star Gardening August 7th 2019 Becky Emerson Carlberg Have you seen the brilliant red ripe one inch in diameter balls decorating the small, shrubby trees in fields and along roads.  The sand plums are ripening.  The Red, Western, Sand, Sandhill, Mountain Cherry, Cherokee or Chickasaw plum (choose your favorite common name) all fall […]

The Shawnee News-Star Gardening August 7th 2019

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Have you seen the brilliant red ripe one inch in diameter ballsdecorating the small, shrubby trees in fields and along roads.  The sand plums are ripening.  The Red, Western, Sand, Sandhill, MountainCherry, Cherokee or Chickasaw plum (choose your favorite common name) all fallunder the scientific name of Prunus angustifolia.  Prunus describes the showy spring flowers ofplants in the rose family that produce tasty fruit.  Angustifolia is Latin for narrow leaf.  The sand plum is a small tree ranging from 4to 10 feet tall (some isolated trees top 25 feet), 4-6 feet wide and notoriousfor inbreeding.  Horticulturalists havedeveloped several cultivars ('Guthrie', 'Rainbow' and 'Chisolm') each with somedifferences in leaves and fruits.

Short shrubby plum thicket is one identifying characteristicof this chummy plant.  The prickly thornsas well as flowers that appear very early in the spring before the leaves areother giveaways.  As you guessed, theylike to grow in sandy soil, especially along ditches or rivers, but willtolerate heavier clay-loam soils.  Sunthey love, but partial shade can work.  Iffire or drought frequently sweep the area, they die off or struggle years torecover.  That said, once established thesand plum can handle dry conditions, especially when sheltered in groups.

Technically, the fruit is a drupe with thin skin and thickflesh surrounding a single seed.  Cherries and peaches are drupes, but so arealmonds and pecans.  We eat the seeds ofthese instead of the fruit!

Sand plums are native to the southeastern part of the US asfar west as KS and TX.  Their originalrage was Texas and Oklahoma, like the Osage Orange (Bois d'arc). They peter outbefore reaching the OK Panhandle.  Theplum curculio snout beetle has crept in from the Rocky Mountains to attack ourplums and peaches.  The plums are alsosusceptible to fruit brown rot and bacterial leaf spot.  Might as well throw in spring tentcaterpillars. 

A good thick stand of sand plums give cover to quail,sparrows, turkey, rabbits, small mammals, foxes and even white-tailed deer.  Loggerhead shrikes, brown thrashers,mockingbirds and Painted Buntings nest in the branches. The little treesstabilize blowing soil, gullies and stream banks.  As an outside row they form an excellentwindbreak. Honey bees, wild bees, bumble bees, flies and wasps pollinate thetree in spring. Here's something to raise your eyebrows.  The sand plum is larval host to 465 moths andbutterflies, including the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple,Spring Azure and Viceroy butterflies.  Insummer the wildlife, livestock and humans eat the fruit.  This is no trash tree.  The sand plum is incredibly valuable.  Everybody should have a sand plum or twosomewhere in their yard.

Orchards and nurseries sell sand plum trees on-line. Now isthe time to collect seeds.  First, samplesome plums to make sure the fruit is tart and tasty.  Some sand plum trees produce very bitterfruit.  The seeds need at least twomonths of moist cold, so imitate nature and stratify the seeds.  Toss clean seeds in a bag with a sand-peatmixture three times the amount of the seeds. Store at temperatures between 36-41 degrees Fahrenheit (in therefrigerator).  Check for germinationfrom time to time.  Plant in earlyspring.  

Practice direct intervention and plant the seeds now in adesignated marked area.  Lightlymulch.  If a dry spell occurs, water.  Look for seedlings in the spring. 

Transplanting the small sand plum should be done in earlyspring before bud break.  It doesn't needa rich soil.  It is a native after all.  Make sure the roots are always in water untilthe little tree is put into a hole twice the depth and three times the width ofthe root ball.  Shovel soil over theroots until barely covered.  Fill holehalf-way with water and let drain.  Fillthe hole half-way with soil, top the hole with water, let drain and then finishfilling the hole with soil.  Press soildown around root zone using hands or feet.

Sand plum jelly is tart, full of flavor and simplyamazing.  Check out the 'Summer of theSand Plum' article by Lacey Newlin in the High Plains Journal, July 2019edition.  Like her mother, she also picksand makes sand plum jelly.  Few plumsmade last year, but this is turning out to be a great year.  Go find your sand plum.