A lovely little gem of a tree

As I got in the car three days ago, this early-day view of one of our Mexican plums really caught my eye. Click image for larger view.

The Missouri Botanical Gardens says Mexican plums are native from Mexico across Texas, throughout their state of Missouri, and north to southeastern South Dakota to Ohio. To be honest, I never had any idea they went that far north.

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Mexican plum is a tough little tree that’s found in woodland thickets as well as rocky streambeds. Because its fruit is favored by birds and mammals, it’s common to find the tree growing along fencerows.

This handsome Mexican plum has put on an annual show along our drive for 25 years.

As landscapes have become smaller and smaller decade by decade, we’ve been on a constant search for trees that would remain proportionately smaller to match. Golden raintrees, redbuds, Little Gem and Teddy Bear magnolias – all good options. And so are our native Mexican plums.

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Facts to know about Mexican plums…
Common name: Mexican plum

Scientific name: Prunus mexicana

Plant Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Native range: Mexico to SE South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Ohio, and south to Alabama. Eastern half of Texas.

Mature size: 20-25 ft. tall and wide

Soil preferences: Acidic to somewhat alkaline, but thrives in deep soils with constant supply of moisture.

Leaves: 2-3 in. long, dull green and coarse-textured. Unremarkable fall color. Deciduous.

The Mexican plum nearest our front door and courtyard perfumes several hundred square feet. (Nellie R. Stevens holly in the background.) Click image for larger view.

Flowers: Very early spring, before leaves emerge. Pure white. Delightfully fragrant. Frequented by bees.

Few trees have more notable bark than Mexican plum.

Bark: Brownish-gray, peeling bark gives trunks a very coarse-textured appearance. Branches and twigs occasionally produce thorns, so place trees accordingly in landscape.

As if flowers, bark, and growth form weren’t enough, this great little tree bears colorful and tasty fruit that matures in the fall.

Fruit: Colorful plums ripen in late summer/early fall. They are better for preserves than they are for fresh use. Birds and animals like them. Plant where fallen fruit will not become a mess.

Life expectancy of tree: 20-35 years.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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