Roadside Prunus Exploring (Plums, Cherries)

Due to another thread, I’ve been made aware of my prunus ignorance w/r to the fact that wild plums(!) can be found along roadsides and in the woods around where I live here in south eastern PA. I grew up in north Jersey and knew wild cherries grew in the woods (though they weren’t all that common, and were difficult to get decent fruit from), but was not aware of wild plums growing up.

Well, it’s plum and cherry bloom time now, and with my newfound awareness, I can pretty easily tell the difference between escaped callery pears (LOTS here!) and prunus, so I’m driving around with my eyes open looking for white blooms along the road that might be wild/native plums and cherries worth getting a better look at later in the season.

My biggest challenges at this point are 1) Getting decent enough photos to at least tentatively ID the trees I find, and 2) Finding a decent enough reference that shows bark and flower photos of my likely local trees so I can use my (so far not detailed enough) photos to tentatively ID them.

Bringing along my good camera should help solve the photo issue, as I’m not at the moment looking to trudge through underbrush - this stage is for locating and tentative ID only…

Is anyone else doing this now (or soon)? If so, post your finds!

Anyway, here’s what I’ve found so far - first was a small thicket, and second was a lone tree (photos out of order). Phone photos only so they’re not good enough quality to tentatively ID yet - I’ll go back with a better camera at some point soon.

Oh, and if anyone has a good reference showing bark and flowers, please point me to it! Thanks!

(A closer look at that lone tree now makes me think it might be a pear… Hmmm…)


@Petebacher - I grew up in West Orange, myself. I always had a glimmer of interest in wild fruits and such but didn’t have a mentor or much exposure to such things. All in all a good place to grow up, and I would kind of like to poke around and see what’s there knowing what I know now.

Your pictures are from too far away to make a good judgement. The growth form in the first is definitely more suggestive of pear than plum. The others seem more promising. As I mentioned on the other thread, there are some odds and ends seedling pears around, but here I’d mainly be differentiating plums from Amelanchier. The difference is subtle from a distance. Amelanchier flowers have more space between them and the whole canopy seems more open. Also, the flowers are much more slight of form with their slender petals. Plum flowers tend to form such clusters that it appears more a solid mass. Pear flowers do the same, but unlike plums they tend to flower from spurs, and the petals are much larger.

I’ll be paying a visit to my local specimens in the coming weeks. Looking at my photos, bloom for wild plums is around the 1st week of May. Everything is pushing early here, though, so maybe sooner.

I dug around in my archives a bit and here are some pics from one particular patch. There seems to be some variation in form. Perhaps a couple of species. @Everett mentioned nigra, which is a good thought. Honestly not sure some of these fit neatly into one or another, but would love to hear otherwise. Anyway, here’s some decent resolution close ups of form, flowers, bark:

Here’s an Amelanchier for comparison. The silhouette is different, something distinct and hard to put into words. Like lots of things, you can try and try and still miss. But once you see it, you can’t help but see it. I call it “getting eyes” for them.

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Of course if you can get a little closer, it’ll be easier to tell. You might consider using your nose and ears as well. The wild plums here smell incredible, and the scent can travel a good ways in the right weather. Similarly, during nectar flow you’ll scarcely see and hear such a cacophony of insects- every bee species imaginable, plus wasps of all kinds, and flies too. They’re quite the attraction. It sounds like not all wild plums have such nice smelling flowers, though all Ive encountered do.

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Thank you for all the info and posts! Been too busy to post anything of substance. Did some beach plum hunting at my list of spots down the DE beach over the weekend - will post findings later in the week (spoiler: I learned that BPs don’t grow along the bay shore as close to me as I had hoped). That’s a very attractive Amalanchier - what variety is it? I have a Lee 3 and 8 I plan to replace a couple of street-side burning bushes hiding my Verizon box with in a week or two. Nice currants :wink: Oh, and I grew up in Wayne and went to Wayne Valley HS - I feel like we used to compete against West Orange in sports and marching band.

Sure thing! I drove by one of the wild plum patches today and they’re not really pushing much yet. I’ll see if I can scout them out in a week or two and post some pics.

Cool you were able to go scouting for Beach Plums. I moved down near Red Bank area when I was 10, so spent a lot of time around bays and brackish tidal rivers. The only Beach Plums I ever saw then were on dunes out at Sandy Hook, so I mainly associate them with ocean rather than bay side. It may be, though, that the soil wasn’t sandy and barren enough for them to gain a foothold. Lots of other interesting stuff grew there on the bayside, though- Red mulberries, black walnut, river grapes, etc.

The Amelanchier pic is of an endemic running / stoloniferous type that inhabits the shallow shaley ledge soil above my house. They are famously difficult to identify from what I understand, but this type is very distinct with its elongated wooly buds. I posted elsewhere about it. When the buds open, it’s the most amazing display for a few days, the new shoots popping out as much as 1 1/2” before leaf or flower unfurls in the slightest. Plus the whole works emerges wavy and crinkled as though it had all been sitting there stuffed into the bud waiting to pop out, which in a way I guess it almost was. They’re closest in habit and appearance to alnifolia. The fruit is very good, and I have such a massive patch of them by now that I should be getting tons of ot. Unfortunately they have more than their share of pest and disease issues, which I am hoping to someday remedy.


So this past weekend, I DID make it down to the DE bay beaches for some beach plum exploring. In another post, I’d listed a bunch of locations that looked promising on Google Maps. Sunday I drove them from north (nearest) to south (farthest). Based on no plums at the first two sites, I ended up skipping several less promising locations. Here’s the list of sites I visited:

  • Woodland Beach, DE - NO BEACH PLUMS FOUND
  • Port Mahon Boat Launch and Road, DE - NO BEACH PLUMS FOUND
  • Pickering Beach DE - NO BEACH PLUMS FOUND
  • Big Stone Beach DE - BEACH PLUMS FOUND!
    I don’t think it’s a north/south thing - just that the “beach” doesn’t have as significant dunes at the first three locations. On my next trip in a few months when I expect plums will be ripe, I’ll probably check a few more locations south of Big Stone Beach.

A few photos below


I’ll be going to the Long Island Sound next week to evaluate the Beach Plum flowering. I’ve noticed a few last year with superior flowers but never marked them. This time I’ll bring some marking tape.

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I tagged two “trees” with metal tags on Sunday. Let’s see if I can find them when I return in a couple of months…


FYI, in case anyone else following is in the area, my updated BP exploring list is now:

  1. Bennett’s Pier Beach DE - near Big Stone Beach - GMaps looks promising
  3. Big Stone Beach DE SOUTH - I think there will be BPs south of the 9 houses
  4. Beach Plum Island Nature Preserve - S. Bayshore Dr.
  5. Higbee Beach, NJ - I’ve heard there are lots of BPs here
  6. Sunset Beach, NJ - I’ve heard there are lots of BPs here