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How to Identify a Plum Tree

Updated April 17, 2017

Plum trees are popular for their tart, sweet fruit that can be eaten fresh, made into jams, plum wines or brandy, or served pickled or dried. Plums have been cultivated for thousands of years and also make beautiful trees in any garden. Related to apricot, cherry and peach trees, plum trees are enjoyed across much of the globe. Identifying a plum tree is easy when you are armed with information.

Depending on the season, you may be able to identify your tree by when it flowers and fruits. Plums flower in the early spring, with clusters of 3 to 5 pink flowers against a backdrop of deep green, almond-shaped leaves. Some types of plum trees flower again in autumn. After 4 to 5 years, plum trees begin to grow fruit. In mid-May plums begin to form fruit, and by July they are half-sized. Plum trees are deciduous. In the fall, the leaves of a plum tree turn colours and eventually fall off. If your tree stays green throughout the year, it is not a plum tree.

Plums grow in zones 3 to 9. If you are outside of these growing zones, your tree is probably not a plum.

Pay attention to where the tree is growing and its size. Plum trees prefer full sun. If your tree is thriving in a very shady place, it is probably not a plum tree. Plum trees can grow to be up to 28 feet tall, but if pruned and trained may be 5 to 7 feet tall.

Plum trees have roots that grow very near the surface, and so often grow many smaller trees (or suckers) as far as 9 feet from the tree. If you see a cluster of several smaller trees around the main trunk, it might be a plum tree.

Tip

Plums have a line running down the side and a smooth stone. They may have a dusty white, waxy coating that can easily be rubbed off as the fruit matures.

Warning

If you are not sure if the fruit on your tree is a plum, do not eat it. Some plum trees have been bred for beautiful flowers and may produce a bitter fruit.

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About the Author

Jessica Alzarana has a Bachelor of Music in music composition from the University of North Texas and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in music therapy from Texas Woman's University. Alzarana essays have been published by UNICEF State of the World Children's Report & BootsNAll.