I took my children to Lake Shetek State Park in southwestern Minnesota today, and while chatting with the Park Ranger she mentioned there was a plum tree in the park, but she didn’t know where. We had a quest! We drove along the gravel roads, and I happened to look over at the right moment and spotted a tree with rough bark and delicious-looking red fruits hanging down.
We had found it.
The Minnesota DNR says:
“Wild Plum (Prunus americana).
The wild plum is a small tree found throughout the state except in the northeast. Fruits are red and yellow and 2 to 2 1/2 inches in size. They ripen in August. The trees seldom grow in groves but are usually scattered throughout the forest, so it’s hard to pick a bushel of wild plums. They’re delicious fresh or in preserves, but it’s tough to beat the birds to this tree.”
They were right. We managed to collect about 20 plums, but that’s all that were left. Now that I know where the tree is, though, it’s going on my foraging map for next year and I’ll be sure to check it sooner, along with my yellow plum tree at another park.
It can be hard to identify a wild plum tree before the fruit develops and ripens, but there are some very good websites that can help you.
- Virginia Tech’s vTree has a compact page with very good descriptions of all the parts, including a range map.
- USDA Plant Database has a PDF file with descriptions, alternate names, and historic uses of it.
- Carolina Nature has an excellent page with several photos of the leaves, flowers, and bark.
- The U of M’s Minnesota Tree Care Advocate has a large PNG image (2.5MB) with all of the information on one page.
When I saw that the Wild Plum was in the Rosaceae family, it reminded me of the poem The Rose Family by Robert Frost.
The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple’s a rose,
And the pear is, and so’s
The plum, I suppose.
The dear only knows
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose –
But were always a rose.
Good luck finding (and eating) this delicious member of the rose family! We’ll be saving the seeds for planting next year.