Chickasaw Plum (Prunus angustifolia) is a favorite North American shrub, widely admired for its vigorous bloom of tiny white, fragrant flowers. The spring blooms, which can sometimes be spectacular, are enhanced through several inherent characteristics of the plant. The root systems are known for extensive suckering, meaning that new plants or shoots spring up from the roots and eventually grow into tight thickets. In addition, the flowers bloom before the leaves come out, giving direct lines of sight through the branches.
The photograph that follows illustrates the appearance in late bloom, as the leaves are beginning to open and the flowers are loosing petals.
Chickasaw Plum flowers also bloom in compact clusters, which places more flowers in the visual field. See below.
A closer view of individual flowers, which are very small – less than 1/2 inch across. In the Piedmont of North Carolina, the flowers bloom during the last week of March into the first week of April with some variation.
The buds are small, with a reddish brown color. In the second photo below, a grayish or bluish bark exfoliation can be seen on top of the twig – best viewed under some magnification. The buds begin to swell in late February – early March.
The bark is very distinctive , often black in older shrubs, with numerous horizontal lenticels. Younger trunks and the upper branches of older shrubs are usually dark brown.
The fruit, which ripens in mid June, is usually red but can also be yellow. The fruit is smaller than horticultural plums, about the size of a large cherry.
Although Chickasaw Plum is definitely a North American native, it is probably introduced into North Carolina and the Southeast. Here is a quote from John Bartram, a famous early American botanist, which appeared on Chickasaw.net : Bartram wrote of the Chickasaw plum: “The Chickasaw plumb I think must be accepted, for though certainly a native of America, yet I never saw it wild in the forests, but always in old deserted Indian plantations. I suppose it to have been brought from the (southwest) beyond the Mississippi, by the Chickasaws.”
Here is a more specific description of its origins in an excerpt from an 1895 paper by Dr. V. Havard.* ” …The chickasaw plum of the south is regarded by Prof. Sargent as native of the eastern slopes of the southern Rocky Mountains and of the plateaus extending thence to the Mississippi, and as having been introduced by the Indians (Chickasaw?) into the southern Atlantic States where it soon became extensively naturalized. ‘
Chickasaw Plum in Wake County, North Carolina
In spite of high population density and intensive, unbridled development , small populations of Chickasaw Plum still survive in Wake County, mostly in the Eastern part on sandy soils. Very small, remnant populations can also be found in the Falls Lake area, particularly along roadsides and in plantings established by hunters to attract game animals.
If you are interested in seeing Chickasaw Plums blooming, there are several sites, open to the public, where they can be seen in full bloom in the last week of March/first week of April approximately. Turnipseed Nature Preserve has a nice thicket along the Lupine Loop trail. Probably the largest population is on the Triangle Land Conservancy’s Bailey and Sarah Williamson Preserve, near the southern part of the Two Pond Loop.
- Dr. V. Havard, US Army, “Food Plants of the North American Indians” Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, Vol 22, No 3, (Mar. 27, 1895) pp 98-123. Available as a PDF