American plum

(Prunus americana)

Conservation Status
American plum
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5? - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed

Wetland Indicator Status
  Great Plains

UPL - Obligate upland


UPL - Obligate upland

  Northcentral & Northeast

UPL - Obligate upland


American plum is an erect, fast-growing, perennial shrub or small tree rising on a single or multiple stems from a woody root. It is relatively long-lived, sometimes reaching 50 or 60 years of age.

When in the form of a tree it is 15 to 25 tall and 4 to 10 in diameter at breast height. It has a single short trunk and a broad, open, spreading crown. In prairies and other open areas it is rarely in the form of a tree. When in the form of a shrub it can be 3 to 26 tall, but is usually 10 to 15 tall. It rises on a single or multiple stems that branch near the ground. It can form large, dense, impenetrable thickets from root suckers.

The branches are slender. The stems and branches usually have thorns. The thorns are stout; up to 2 long; have a dull surface; and have buds or leaves attached, or leaf scars where leaves have fallen off.

The bark on young stems is dark gray or gray-brown, tinged with red, and more or less smooth, with numerous horizontal slits (lenticels). When it ages it becomes rough and curls or peels off in thick strips.

Young twigs are thin and have minute lenticels. They are green at first, later becoming grayish-brown to reddish-brown. The may be hairless but are often hairy or densely hairy. Buds are reddish-gray, to 5 16 long, and sharply pointed. Leaf scars are raised and have 3 bundle scars.

The leaves are alternate, deciduous, elliptical to egg-shaped, unlobed, 2 to 2½ times as long as wide, 2¼ to 4 long, and 1¼ to 1¾ wide. They are attached to the twig on 5 16 to long leaf stalks. The leaf stalks are hairy, sometimes densely hairy, and usually do not have glands near the point where the blade attaches to the stalk. The blades are tapered or rounded at the base and taper to a point at the tip with concave sides along the tip. The upper surface is dark green and hairless. The lower surface is paler green sparsely to moderately hairy along the veins. The margins are singly or doubly toothed with short, sharp, forward-pointing teeth. The teeth do not have glands but tend to have a callous point at the tip. The leaves turn golden yellow in autumn.

The inflorescence is 2 to 4 flowers in a stalkless umbrella-shaped cluster (umbel). The umbels appear at the ends of current year twigs and at the axils of previous year branchlets.

The flowers are ¾ to 1 across. There are 5 green, 1 16 to long sepals, 5 white, ¼ to 7 16 long petals, and 20 to 30 stamens. The sepals are often hairy on the upper side. Many flowers do not produce fruit. The flowers have an unpleasant aroma. They appear before the leaves from April to early June.

The fruits are fleshy, one-seeded, roughly spherical, ¾ to 1¼ in diameter drupes. They are covered with a whitish, waxy coating (glaucous). Drupes are yellow when immature, red to yellow, usually orange-red, when mature. They have a thick skin and yellow flesh. They mature early mid-August to mid-September.




10 to 15


Flower Color




Similar Species


Canada plum (Prunus nigra) is less common and less widespread. The leaves are proportionately wider, 1.3 to 2 times as long as wide. There are two small red gland dots near the tip of each leaf petiole. American plum lacks these glands.

Hawthorn (Cretaegus spp.) thorns have a shiny surface.


Dry to moist. Coulees, ravines, roadsides, utility rights-of-way, forest openings, floodplains, prairies where natural fires are suppressed. Full sun to part shade.




April to early June


Pests and Diseases


Plum Pocket (Taphrina communis) causes infected fruits that are enlarged, hollow, seedless, and misshapen, and have a grayish velvety coating.

Rust Fungus (Tranzschelia pruni-spinosae var. americana)




Distribution Map



2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 22, 28, 29, 30.









  Kingdom Plantae (green algae and land plants)  
  Subkingdom Viridiplantae (green plants)  
  Infrakingdom Streptophyta (land plants and green algae)  
  Superdivision Embryophyta (land plants)  
  Division Tracheophyta (vascular plants)  
  Subdivision Spermatophytina (seed plants)  
  Class Magnoliopsida (flowering plants)  
  Superorder Rosanae  


Rosales (roses, elms, figs, and allies)  


Rosaceae (rose)  
  Subfamily Amygdaloideae  
  Tribe Amygdaleae  


Prunus (plums, cherries, and allies)  
  Subgenus Prunus  
  Section Prunocerasus  

Subordinate Taxa






Prunus americana var. floridana

Prunus domestica var. americana


Common Names


American plum

American wild plum

American red plum

August plum

goose plum

hog plum

Osage plum

Pottawattami plum

red plum

river plum

sand cherry

sandhill plum


thorn plum

wild plum

wild yellow plum

yellow plum













A deep, steep-sided gulch or ravine, sometimes with a stream at the bottom but usually dry in the summer.



A fleshy fruit with a single hard, stone-like core, like a cherry or peach.



Pale green or bluish gray due to a whitish, powdery or waxy film, as on a plum or a grape.



A corky, round or stripe-like, usually raised, pore-like opening in bark that allows for gas exchange.



A flat-topped or convex, umbrella-shaped cluster of flowers or buds arising from more or less a single point.

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Leaf Blade

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Unripe Fruit

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Ripe Fruit

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  American Plum (Prunus americana)
Andree Reno Sanborn
  American Plum (Prunus americana)  



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Other Videos
  How To Identify Wild Plums Prunus americana Identification

Published on Aug 24, 2013

How to identify wild plums. Prunus americana identification. Wild plums, or american plums, are a tasty wild edible plant. Wild plums are easy to identify, abundant, widespread, and the tree or shrub provides both medicine and serves utility purposes.

This video explains the physical characteristics of wild plums, range, distribution and habitat, and some medicinal and utility uses of wild plum.

Wild plum roots were used by native Americans to make a red dye. Wild plum twigs and inner bark were used to treat mouth sores and sore throat. Wild plum rootstocks are used for cultivated plums and the plants prevent soil erosion.

Wild plum prefers moist ares near water that get a good amount of sunlight and can be found throughout north America.

There are two other species of wild plum, beach plum and Canada plum with similar characteristics, all are considered wild edibles and can be distinguished from one another by the features shown in this video.

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Visitor Sightings

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  William Lasseter

Location: Zachary Lane near Bass Lake, Plymouth, MN

A small tree just off the path where the boardwalk veers off toward Timber Shores Park.


Antelope Valley SNA

Baker Park Reserve

Big Woods Heritage Forest WMA

Blue Mounds State Park

Brownsville Bluff SNA

Buffalo River State Park

Bunker Hills Regional Park

Butternut Valley Prairie SNA

Carpenter St. Croix Valley Nature Center

Cedar Mountain SNA

Cedar Rock SNA

Cleary Lake Regional Park

Compass Prairie SNA

Cottonwood River Prairie SNA

Crow-Hassan Park Reserve

Des Moines River SNA

Dry Sand WMA

Edward Velishek Memorial WMA

Elm Creek Park Reserve

Falls Creek SNA

Felton Prairie SNA, Bicentennial Unit

Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park

Fort Ridgely State Park

Frontenac State Park

Glacial Lakes State Park

Glendalough State Park

Glynn Prairie SNA

Great River Bluffs State Park

Grey Cloud Dunes SNA

Hastings Sand Coulee SNA

Holthe Prairie SNA

Iron Horse Prairie SNA

Jensen Memorial WMA

John A. Latsch State Park

Kasota Prairie

Keller Regional Park

Kellogg Weaver Dunes SNA, Kellogg Weaver Unit

Lake Byllesby Regional Park

Lake Carlos State Park

Lake Elmo Park Reserve

Lake Maria State Park

Lake Rebecca Park Reserve

Langhei Prairie SNA

Lawrence Creek SNA

Leif Mountain

Lost Valley Prairie SNA

Margherita Preserve-Audubon Prairie

Miller Prairie, West Unit

Minneopa State Park

Minnesota Valley NWR, Black Dog Unit

Moose Lake State Park

Morton Outcrops SNA

Mound Prairie SNA

Mound Spring Prairie SNA, North Unit

Ney Nature Center

Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR, Hoffman Unit

Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR, Rengstorf Unit

Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR, Touch the Sky Prairie Unit

Ordway Prairie

Osmundson Prairie SNA

Pilot Knob

Pin Oak Prairie SNA

Prairie Coteau SNA

Prairie Creek WMA, Koester Prairie Unit

Racine Prairie SNA

Red Rock Prairie

Regal Meadow

Richard M. & Mathilde Rice Elliott SNA

Ritter Farm Park

Rock Ridge Prairie SNA

Sand Prairie Wildlife Management and Environmental Education Area

Savage Fen SNA

Sedan Brook SNA

Seven Mile Creek County Park

Seven Sisters Prairie

Sheepberry Fen

Spring Lake Regional Park

Staffanson Prairie

Swedes Forest SNA

Tamarack Nature Center

Townsend Woods SNA

Tympanuchus Prairie

Verlyn Marth Memorial Prairie SNA

Vermillion River WMA

Whitetail Woods Regional Park

Wild Indigo SNA

Wild River State Park

William O’Brien State Park

Woodbury WMA

Woodland Trails Regional Park

Zimmerman Prairie

Zumbro Falls Woods SNA







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