European plum (Prunus domestica)
Prunus domestica L. ssp. insititia (L.) C.K. Schneid.
Prunus × domestica L. var. insititia (L.) B. Boivin (pro nm.), nom. illeg.
Prunus insititia L.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Confirmed.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for European
plum is Prunus domestica L. There are two generally recognized of
Prunus domestica: 1) domestica, and 2) var. insititia (L.) Fiori & Paoletti.
The Atlas of Virginia Flora lists variety insititia as the only variety of
Prunus domestica occurring in Facquier County. There are hundreds of
cultivars for Prunus domestica; no attempt has been made to determine
which cultivar species are found in Sky Meadow State Park.
NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: The following is a
description of Prunus domestica without regard to variety. The descrip-
tion is more "technical" than most other botanical descriptions in the
Nature Guide; referring to the glossary may be necessary.
European plums are small to medium size deciduous trees ranging in height
from 18 feet to 45 feet, although most specimens of this cultivated plant are
much smaller. It has a single trunk with branches reddish brown, unarmed
or with a few spines, without hairs. Branchlets are pale red to grayish green,
sparsely pubescent . Winter buds are reddish brown, usually smooth and
hairless. Leaves are smooth, simple, broad, ovate or broad-eliptic or lance-
olate, unlobed and toothed along the margin. Leaves are 4 cm to 10 cm long,
2.5 cm to 5 cm in width. Color is medium (sometimes darker) green. Leaves
have linear stipules; the leaf tapers gradually to a pointed apex with more
or less concave sides along the tip. Leaves abaxially pubescent, adaxially
glabrous or sparsely pubescent on veins, base cuneate to occasionally broad-
ly cuneate and with a pair of nectaries. Leaves have 5 to 7 secondary veins
on either side of midvein. Flowers are solitary or to 3 in a fascicle, on an
apex of short branchlets, 1-1.5 cm in diameter. The pedicel is 1-1.2 cm, hair-
less or pubescent. The hypanthium is pubescent on the outside. Sepals
ovate, outside pubescent, margin entire, apex acute. Flower petals are
white or occasionally greenish, obovate, base cuneate, apex rounded to ob-
tuse. The fruit is a drupe red, purple, green, or yellow, usually globose to
oblong, rarely subglobose, 1-2.5 cm in diameter, often glaucous. The endo-
carp is broadly ellipsoid and pitted.
REGENERATION PROCESS: European plum propogates itself by
reseeding. Most European plums are cultivated employing a variety of
planting and pruning procedures.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: European plums prefer deep, well-drained
soils with pH 5.5 - 6.5. It can toleratet soils ranging from sandy loam to
some clay. However, plums are the most tolerant of all stone fruits with
respect to heavy soils and waterlogging. Plums are adapted to a wide range
of climatic conditions; at least some cultivars can be grown in almost every
state in the US. European plums need full sun.
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: European plums are widely cultivated;
while not considered a "wild" species (it does exist in a wild state in
parts of Europe and Russia), they can survive on old farm sites and
abandoned orchards without care. Successional issues are not pertinent
for this species.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: European plum flowers in March and
fruits in September. Plums require 2.5 to 6 months for fruit development.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: European plum variety insititia is a
cultivated plant of the Atlantic seaboard, having been planted exten-
sively in the mid-Atlantic and New England states, extending as far
north as Nova Scotia. It does not extend much west of the Appalachian
Mountains in the United States, but does extend as far west as Quebec
and Ontario in Canada. It should be noted, however, that some variety
or cultivar of European plum exists throughout most of the United States.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION:
Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
South Ridge/North Ridge
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
The specific distribution of European plum has not been determined.
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES: Not applicable.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: European plum is not noted as being
attractive to either mature butterflies or birds. It is attractive to moth
and butterfly caterpillars. They can be highly destructive and are
characterized as leaf feeders, stem borers, leaf rollers, cutworms and
tent-formers. It is attractive to a host of other "pest" species, including
aphids, scale insects, and powdery mildew (a fungi).
The fruit can be eaten raw or cooked. The fruit varies considerably from
cultivar to cultivar, but it is generally somewhat mealy, soft and juicy with
a delicious flavour ranging from very sweet to acid. The more acid fruits
are usually only used for cooking purposes. The fruit varies widely in size
according to cultivar but can be 8cm long and contains a single large seed.
The seed can also be eaten raw or cooked although the seed should not be
eaten if it is too bitter. An edible gum is obtained from points of damage on
the trunk. The seed contains about 20% of an edible semi-drying oil. It has
an agreeable almond smell and flavour. The flowers are eaten; they are
used as a garnish for salads and ice cream or brewed into a tea. However,
caution is necessary when consuming the leaves or seeds of European
plum. It belongs to a genus where most, if not all members of the genus
produce hydrogen cyanide, a poison that gives almonds their characteristic
flavour. This toxin is found mainly in the leaves and seed and is readily
detected by its bitter taste. It is usually present in too small a quantity to
do any harm but any very bitter seed or fruit should not be eaten. In small
quantities, hydrogen cyanide has been shown to stimulate respiration and
improve digestion, it is also claimed to be of benefit in the treatment of
cancer. In excess, however, it can cause respiratory failure and even death.
The dried fruit, known as prunes, is a safe and effective laxative. The bark
is sometimes used as a febrifuge.
A green dye can be obtained from the leaves. A dark grey to green dye can
be obtained from the fruit. A yellow dye is obtained from the bark. A
gum obtained from points of damage along the stem can be used as an ad-
hesive. The ground up seeds are used cosmetically in the production of face-
masks for dry skin. A semi-drying oil is obtained from the seed. The wood
is hard and compact; it is used for musical instruments.
Crooked Run Valley