Feral plum naturalized from understock cultivars.

Springtime in the Santa Clara Valley was famously spectacular decades ago, when vast orchards occupied what is now only urban sprawl. Tourists came to see it like some still go to see foliar color of autumn in New England. Most of the orchards were for stone fruits. Only a few in cooler spots were for apples and pears. Only orchards of English walnuts did not bloom colorfully.

Cherry and almond trees typically bloomed first. Prune trees bloomed immediately afterward. Apricot trees were only a few days later. Of course, the schedule of bloom was variable. Prune trees often bloomed just after apricot trees. Various cultivars of cherry started to bloom at slightly different times, even though those that needed to pollinate each other managed to do so.

After the main bloom of all the stone fruits, and after the tourists were gone, the few apple and pear orchards in cooler spots and surrounding hillsides continued the process. Mulberry trees that grew sporadically on roadsides around the orchards bloomed no more colorfully than English walnuts, but somehow produced enough fruit to distract birds from developing stone fruits.

Feral plum trees are a group that was not easy to categorize even before the demise of the orchards. They were not intentionally grown in orchards, or even in home gardens. They just sort of grew wild along creeks or from the roots of grafted stone fruit trees that had been cut down. They were originally grown as understock cultivars, but had naturalized to become truly feral.

Because their fruit was not used for much, they did not get much consideration. We tend to forget that some types bloomed before any of the other stone fruits. To those who do not expect fruit, feral plum trees are as spectacular as productive stone fruit trees.

Feral plum bloom is now finishing. Foliage will replace blossoms.

8 thoughts on “Feral Plum

  1. I can only imagine how spectacular this must have been. We have a few orchards here but they’re becoming fewer by the moment. One of our last is for sale, in fact. It’s tough work.


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    1. I can only remember remnants of the formerly vast orchards. They were exquisite. I can not imagine the Santa Clara Valley filled with them. My Pa remembers more of the orchards, when there were not much more than 3,000 living in Sunnyvale, and there were less than 100,000 living in San Jose.


    1. It is still an excellent place. I can imagine that it must be appealing to those who are not familiar with how it was. However, as a native, I can not forget how it was, and will never be able to appreciate all of what it is now.

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  2. We still have those orchards on the outer edges of town. Mostly almonds, peaches, plums, apricots, and nectarines. Some cherries, now that there are more cultivars that need fewer chill hours. There’s even a designated road tour called the “Fresno County Blossom Trail” that people will drive or bike. It’s absolutely spectacular in color and profusion. Since I grow so many of these in my yard, I get my own mini-blossom trail just walking in the yard!

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    1. Peaches, nectarines and plums are three that I have not seen in orchards. Cling peaches for canning use to grow in my former neighborhood, but they were gone before my time. I remember mostly apricots, even though they were the second most common of fruits. Prunes were the most common, but they were in regions that were developed earlier.

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  3. That’s interesting. There’s a wild plum, Prunus americana, which I’ve been tempted to grow, except that it tends to make dense shrubby thickets and has nasty sharp spurs that stick up out of the ground.

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    1. That is what most of the feral plums were descendants from. They are not native, but were imported for rootstock. Some are probably the real species. Some might by hybrids with other plums that were grown for fruit production.

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