The Shawnee News-Star Gardening Article Mar 25th 2020 Becky Emerson Carlberg If you see white blossoms with expanding green leaves at the same time, say hello to the Bradford pear following its normal schedule as if it were still in China.  Those out-of control Callery pears destroy nature wherever they crop up.    Each year […]

The Shawnee News-Star Gardening Article Mar 25th2020

Becky Emerson Carlberg

If you see white blossoms with expanding green leaves at thesame time, say hello to the Bradford pear following its normal schedule as ifit were still in China.  Those out-ofcontrol Callery pears destroy nature wherever they crop up.   

Each year when white, pink and purplish blooms made theirsurprise appearances among the dormant trees on the hillsides of southeastOklahoma, my dad would announce spring is here. Those early blooming plums and redbuds, bursting into flower well beforethe leaves unfurled, were the signal for him to get serious about his gardenand fruit trees because the weather was fixing to get warmer.   

At least nine different species of plums live somewhere inOklahoma.  Here in the central part ofthe state we mainly have the sand plum (Prunus angustifolia), the American plum(Prunus americana), and the Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana). 

The Mexican plum, native to northern Mexico into central US isthe only plum that doesn't bunch into thickets but forms a strikingsingle-trunked tree, reaching 25 feet in height.  It may grow in sun or as an understory tree andtolerates dry to moist soils.  The one-inchwhite flowers are highly scented. 

The American plum can go to up 35 feet, also producesfragrant white flowers but is much more cosmopolitan, ranging from southernCanada across the eastern two thirds of the US. This plum sends out suckerswith branches lined with sharp little spines that aid thicket development. Unlikeits Mexican cousin, the American plum does not like shade and prefers damperearth.

Which brings me to the sand plum.  It goes by so many plum names:  Chickasaw, Cherokee, Florida sand, mountaincherry, sandhill or just sand plum.  Theshortest of the plum trio, the sand plum usually tops at perhaps 6-8 feet (withfew actually attaining 25 feet in perfect conditions).  Originally the shrubby thicket forming treeswere only native to Texas and Oklahoma, but they have now been cultivated inother states. 

The sand plum loves the wide-open prairies, fencerows, andedges of woods.  If the soil is sandy,all the better.  The timing of the milky flowers(some trees have flowers that go pink with age) usually coincides with the lastfrost or freeze of early spring.  Someyears there are many fruits, other years nothing.  The story goes: at the end of July, a loverof sand plum jelly drove down every country road in search of ripe sand plums.  After a few off and on years, the person decidedto do something about it and planted 400 sand plum bushes.  Now each summer there are at least some sandplums!

Not just for fruit, the sand plum is excellent for erosioncontrol.  The trees stabilize streambanks and gullies, form sturdy outside rows in windbreaks and control blowingsoils.  Birds utilize the shrubby treesfor nesting, roosting and playing.  Thethickets are especially important to Bobwhite quail, thrasher, mockingbird,field sparrow, loggerhead shrike and the beautiful painted bunting. As a noteof interest, cattle gain more weight and stay cooler when sand plum thicketsare left to flourish in the rangeland.

Pollinators are attracted to the sand plum in all itsstages.  The larvae of the black-wavedflannel moth, striped hairstreaks, and the large Cecropia moths, blinded andsmall-eyed sphinx moths, and tiger swallowtails, to name a few, grow and thriveon the leaves during their cycle of life. In nature it's often eat or be eaten.

'.wings large and splendid, which were designed to bear aprecious burden through the upper air.' Henry David Thoreau (Moth Night at Cambridge MA 1852) commenting on apair of moth wings floating down as a bird ate the moth. 

Add to the list, squirrel, fox, coyote, black bear, deer,raccoons and humans as sand plum connoisseurs. The ripe fruit is rich, sweetand tart. The dark pink or red jelly is amazing on biscuits or bread.

Transplanting the small sandplum should be done in early spring before bud break. It doesn't need a richsoil since it's a native, but will appreciate a soil that drains well. Makesure the roots are always in water until the little tree is put into a holetwice the depth and three times the width of the root ball. Time to settle inthe transplant.  Shovel soil over theroots until barely covered. Fill hole half-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 soil down around root zone using hands.

Plant a container grown sandplum.  Look on-line or ask your localnursery.  For more info:  OSUExtension Factsheet HLA-6258 'Sand plums for Home and Commercial Production.'

The sand plumis a must plant tree for your landscape this year.  You won't be sorry.