The Chickasaw plum covers itself in small white blossoms in late winter and early spring. Click to download a large (800x600) version of this image.
Chickasaw plum is usually a shrub with a short (sometimes multi-stemmed) trunk and numerous slender branches. It normally grows to 6-12 ft (2-3 m) in height, but can become a small tree up to 25 ft (7.5 m) tall. Like other plums, this one is armed with lateral twigs that end in sharp spines. The bark is dark and not exfoliating as in the similar American plum (Prunus americana). Chickasaw plum characteristically forms dense thickets, unlike the very similar flatwoods plum (P. umbellata) which usually grows with a single trunk. The leaves of Chickasaw plum have teeth that are tipped with little red or yellow glands. (You need a hand lens to see these.) Leaves of flatwoods plum and American plum lack the glands. The flowers of Chickasaw plum come out before the leaves in late winter or very early spring on the previous year's wood. They are white with a mild fragrance and less than a half inch (1.25 cm) across, but they cover the entire bush with a spectacular show when almost nothing else is blooming. As they age and begin to fall off, the flower parts become brownish, giving the shrub a muddy brown appearance from a distance that lasts for a couple days. Chickasaw plum fruits are oval in shape, usually red, and quite tart to the taste.
Location Prunus angustifolia is native to much of the United States from Pennsylvania west to Colorado, and south to Texas and Florida. It favors old fields, waste places, old home sites, roadsides and fence rows, but also occurs in dry sandy soils within scrub, sandhill and dry woodland communities.
Chickasaw plum is easy to grow in almost any soil except strongly alkaline. Mow or prune unwanted suckers and seedlings that appear around the base of the plant, or let it form an attractive thicket that will be welcomed by butterflies, song birds and other wildlife. Light: Like other plums and cherries, Chickasaw plum does best in full sun, but hangs in there in partial shade. Moisture: Established Chickasaw plums are drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5-9. Propagation: Fresh seeds should be kept warm for a couple months, then chilled for 2-4 months before planting. They may take two years to germinate. Cuttings are difficult to root. Use young, fast growing, soft wooded tips under mist with bottom heat.
The Chickasaw plum leaves are narrower and more finely toothed than those of the wild plum (P. americana).
The owner of this clump of Chickasaw plums keeps the space mowed between selected tree trunks to form a neat grove.
In early spring, before most shrubs and trees have even started to leaf out, the Chickasaw plums are in full bloom - billowing white clouds along southern highways. This is a handsome little shrub, perfect for the semi shaded woodland area in the back of the yard. They grow naturally in dry, sandy soils and, once established, need no supplemental watering. The fruits, although tart, are used to make jelly by folks in the know, and eaten fresh by animals in the know. The flowers will attract native insects and the plums will attract native wildlife. The original Americans ate the plums and dried them for keeping. Chickasaw plum, with its attractive bark, small leaves and slender branches, has been used for bonsai.
Chickasaw plum should be a part of any native (to the U.S.) landscape planting. They are maintenance free, produce a beautiful flower show, and attract wildlife.