Identification & Description:
A decidious shrub growing to 2.5m by 4m . It is hardy to zone 6. It is in flower from March to April. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required) and are pollinated by Insects. The plant not is self-fertile. We rate it 2 out of 5 for usefulness.
The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland). It requires moist soil.
The leaves and flowers of this plant are a sure sign spring is on the way. Usually around the last week of February, the tree begins to flower with clusters of small white bell shaped flowers that give off an unusual fragrance, described as everything from almonds to watermelon rind mixed with cat urine. The pale green leaves emerge within a few days making this the first shrub to ‘come to life’ in the spring. The leaves also have a unique odor compared to cucumber. The fruit of Indian Plum is a small dark purple berry resembling a tiny plum, giving the plant its name. Indian Plum grows in open forests, along roadsides, and on stream banks that are sunlit in either dry or moist soils.
Deer browse on the leave on twigs, but the big wildlife benefit are the fruits which birds love. It can often be difficult to collect ripe Indian Plum fruit before the birds get to it. Bear and other fruit eating mammals also use Indian Plum. The early bloom time also helps feed nectar feeding insects and early arriving hummingbirds.
Indian Plum grows just about anywhere it can find a little sun. You can plant it in moist soils and in dry areas and it will grow. It provides early flowers and spring green so add it to the diversity of reclaimed habitat. It makes an excellent bird feeding tree so plant it generously.
For an early burst of color, the Indian Plum can’t be beat in the natural garden. The small white clusters of flowers and the pale green leaves create color in the early spring garden. Plant it in areas receiving lots of sun for best results. Birds will be attracted to the fruit, but be sure to ask your supplier for a male and female plant since male and female flowers grow on separate plants.
Habitats and Possible Locations
Woodland, Dappled Shade, Shady Edge.
Fruit – raw or cooked. A poor flavour. The fruit looks like a small plum but is very bitter with an almond flavour. The fully ripe fruit loses most of its bitterness. The fruit only has a thin layer of flesh. The fruit can be dried and stored for winter use. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.