The changing natural world at our doorsteps | Illustration and text by Patterson Clark
September 4, 2012
Beach plum: A late-summer tart from the dunes
If you spent Labor Day weekend on a Northeast beach, you may have stumbled into a beach plum, a small, scrappy tree with yellow-to-purple, grape-size fruits. They ripen in early September.
Plums from trees growing on sand dunes are edible but are mostly pit, which is covered by a stingy layer of sweet flesh wrapped in a bitter skin; the poignant taste of summer's end.
In a Washington back yard, beach plums can grow well if they are provided with well-drained soil and full sun. The rewards: Fragrant white
flowers in the spring and fruit — more succulent than
those plums from the dunes — for back-to-
school jellies, jams, cobblers, even
cordials and wine.
But simply planting a plum
pit can lead to disappointment
if you are not patient.
It can take as long as
two winters before a
sprout emerges — if
Efficient germination involves cracking the pit to remove the seed and refrigerating it in moist sand for two or three months to break the embryo's dormancy.
An easier way to start a beach plum is to begin with pencil-size root cuttings from young trees. Best results sprout from cuttings treated with rooting hormone and planted several inches into sandy soil in the fall.
Beach-plum trees are very effective at stabilizing sand, so leave them alone if you find them growing on dunes or in protected areas. Instead, ask a nursery to order two for you (about $10 a tree). Since they can't self-pollinate, they'll need a companion to be fruitful.
Sources: Arnoldia, Cornell University Department of Horticulture, University of Maryland Extension