Fruits & Vegetables

Beach Plum

Botanical Name: Prunus maritima
Family: Rosaceae
Order: Rosales
Genus: Prunus
Subgenus:Prunus subg. Prunus

Prunus acuminata Hook.f.
Prunus acuminata Michx.
Prunus gravesii Small
Prunus maritima var. gravesii (Small) G.J.Anderson
Prunus declinata Marsh.
Prunus lancifolia Clav.
Prunus littoralis Bigel.
Prunus poiretiana Heynh.
Prunus pubescens Pursh
Prunus pygmaea Willd.
Prunus reclinata Bosc ex Spach
Prunus sphaerica Willd.

Common Names:Beach Plum

Habitat : Beach plum is native to the East Coast of the United States, from Maine south to Maryland. Although sometimes listed as extending to New Brunswick, the species is not known from collections there, and does not appear in the most authoritative works on the flora of that Canadian province.

Beach plum is a deciduous shrub, in its natural sand dune habitat growing 1–2 m (40–80 inches) high, although it can grow larger, up to 4 m (160 inches or over 13 feet) tall, when cultivated in gardens. The leaves are alternate, elliptical, 3–7 cm (1.2–2.8 inches) long and 2–4 cm (0.8–1.6 inches) broad, with a sharply toothed margin. They are green on top and pale below, becoming showy red or orange in the autumn. The flowers are 1–1.5 cm (0.4–0.6 inches) in diameter, with five white petals and large yellow anthers. The fruit is an edible drupe 1.5–2 cm (0.6–0.8 inches) in diameter in the wild plant, red, yellow, blue, or nearly black.

A plant with rounded leaves, of which only a single specimen has ever been found in the wild, has been described as Prunus maritima var. gravesii (Small) G.J.Anderson, though its taxonomic status is questionable, and it may be better considered a cultivar Prunus maritima ‘Gravesii’. The original plant, found in Connecticut, died in the wild in about 2000, but it is maintained in cultivation from rooted cuttings.

The plant is salt-tolerant and cold-hardy. It prefers the full sun and well-drained soil. It spreads roots by putting out suckers but in coarse soil puts down a tap root. In dunes it is often partly buried in drifting sand. It blooms in mid-May and June. The fruit ripens in August and early September.


Propagation: Seed – requires 2 – 3 months cold stratification and is best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible. Protect the seed from mice etc. The seed can be rather slow, sometimes taking 18 months to germinate. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow them on in a greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year. Cuttings of half-ripe wood with a heel, July/August in a frame. Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame. Layering in spring.

Cultivation: Light gravelly or sandy soils near the coast.

Edible Uses: The species is grown commercially to make jam. Although it is bitter or sour it can be eaten out of hand. Beach plums are much smaller in size when compared to the longer cultivated Asian varieties found in the supermarket. A number of cultivars have been selected for larger and better flavored fruit, including Resigno, Eastham, Hancock and Squibnocket.

Natali Vineyards in Goshen, New Jersey produces a wine from beach plums. Greenhook Ginsmiths in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York makes a gin flavored with beach plums.

Medicinal Uses: Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, all members of the genus contain amygdalin and prunasin, substances which break down in water to form hydrocyanic acid (cyanide or prussic acid). In small amounts this exceedingly poisonous compound stimulates respiration, improves digestion and gives a sense of well-being.

Other uses: A green dye can be obtained from the leaves. A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit. Plants have extensive root systems and can be used for binding sand along the coast.

Known hazards: Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, 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.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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