Scattered daffodils, tulips, hellebores, and grape hyacinths sing in four-part harmony as I look around the yard for the early signs of spring. It’s been a first mowing, edging, weeding, and removing more dregs of winter day. After windy, dry weather, there’s a chance of rain.
Tight flower buds of the native plum tree (Prunus americana Marsh.) in the backyard have been swelling this week, and I notice they are more open now with moisture in the air. Planted by nature, this tree is the remainder of a plum thicket, a highly prized habitat by birds for nests and small animals for shelter. A young deer slept under the tree one night recently, protected by its thorny branches.
The plum is among the first to bloom in the deciduous trees in spring. In John Ball’s Trees field guide, he says that the Omaha First Nation knew that wild plums in bloom meant it was time to plant crops.
Plum fruit was harvested to eat fresh, dried, or cooked. The fruit is tart and today is sometimes used in jam or left as treats for wildlife. “Kantahu can” in Lakota, First Nation, means red plum moon. August is when plums are ripe.
The female tree produces fruit, and birds help distribute seeds. Naturally planted plum trees are found along riverbanks and drainage of woody draws.
Once established, wild plums are tolerant of drought and other weather conditions and can adapt to alkaline soil. Easy to propagate as rooted cuttings, they have been included in native restoration lands in some regions. They are not usually chosen as landscape trees because the roots form suckers to begin a thicket.
The plum blooms opened today. Only when standing under the tree canopy did I inhale spring. Busy trimming and tending the yard earlier, this tree, tended by nature, announces spring. A few small bumblebees visited the bulb flowers, but this tree is alive with native honeybees and other pollinators! See the activity in this brief video.
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American plum is not native here, but naturalized from understock that supported many of the formerly vast orchards of the Santa Clara Valley. I will likely eventually add it to my garden just because it is so familiar. Of course, I will contain it.