Sierra plum (Prunus subcordata) varies regionally. Some plants have yellow, sweet fruit while other Sierra plum fruits are red and bitter. Some taxonomists describe the many variations as subspecies or varieties, while others simply categorize all the different forms as P. subcordata. More work is needed to properly classify all the Sierra plum variations. For this post I will be a “clumper”.
A member of the Rose Family, Sierra plum is a native shrub or small tree found in Washington, Oregon and California. Its ecology is open forests and moist or dry rocky slopes up to 6,500 feet in elevation.
Sierra plum sprouts from roots and can form dense thickets. The stiff, crooked branches are grey-brown and flecked with a few small lenticels and have stiff, thorn-like branchlets. Twigs are bright red at first.
The alternate leaves of Sierra plum are deciduous and occur in open clusters. One-veined from the base, the leaves are elliptical or rounded, have petioles (stems) and have very fine teeth on the margins. There is a pair of warty glands found on the petioles near the base of the blades. In fall Sierra plum leaves turn bright scarlet.
One to seven flowers form the Sierra plum inflorescence. The white flowers age to pink. There are many stamens, one style with a superior ovary and five petals.
Sierra plum fruits are hairless drupes on pedicels (stalks). Drupes are fleshy fruits with a woody structure (pit) surrounding one or more seeds. All Sierra plum fruits are edible with some being more palatable than others. All the plums make good jams and jellies. Occasionally I will make a Sierra plum pie adding diced apples and raisins to the plum filling. A bit of baking soda helps neutralize the plums’ bitterness. The seeds contain cyanide and should not be eaten.
Klamath plum, Oregon plum, and Pacific plum are other common names for P. subcordata. The species name, subcordata, is from Latin and means “almost heart shaped”. To me the leaves do not have a heart shape, even an almost heart shape, but we all perceive differently.
The Sierra plum blossoms were photographed in April near the overflow between Crystal and Baum Lakes. The leaves and plant specimens were growing on Modoc Forest Road 40N04 just beyond Spring Creek in May. The fruit was on a Sierra plum tree at the Hat Creek Hydro Plant #1 in July. All locations are in Shasta County CA.