Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Beautiful blossoms of the wild plum

Prunus americana

Wild plum blossoms
Wild plum blossomsWild plum blossoms

The wild plums are blooming now and their fragrance is wonderful. I enjoy walking through the part of the yard where they grow and experiencing their blossoms with several of my senses.

Wild plum blossoms always remind me of my childhood on a ranch in Rock County, Nebraska. , Wild plums grew in the shelter belt north of our house. We came through that "tree-pen" (as we called it) often as we walked home from school, and when the wild plums were in bloom, we brought my mother a bouquet of plum blossoms.

My mother didn't mind our massacre of those little plum trees because she never picked plums there anyway. The plums in the shelter belt had very sour yellow fruit. We all greatly preferred the wild plums from our pastures in northern Loup County -- sweet red plums.

Tonight after the sun was completely down, I went out to the plums in our yard for a few minutes to see what their blossoms are like after dark. (I know this may seem odd, but I'll explain shortly.) The fragrance is just as sweet with a bit of night dew on the petals . There wasn't much natural light on the plums due to cloud cover and the new moon, but they were illuminated a little from the distant yard light. The white blossoms were the only part of the little trees that were visible. One might imagine they were floating in the air.

Why was I curious about their appearance at night? This 1923 poem, by Oreck Johns:

Wild Plum

THEY are unholy who are born
To love wild plum at night,
Who once have passed it on a road
Glimmering and white.

It is as though the darkness had
Speech of silver words,
Or as though a cloud of stars
Perched like ghostly birds.

They are unpitied from their birth
And homeless in men's sight,
Who love, better than the earth,
Wild plum at night.

By Orrick Johns. Published in The New Poetry: An Anthology of Twentieth Century Verse in English. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1923. The MacMillan Company, New York, 1923.

Related post: Bud and twig of American wild plum

3 comments -- please add yours:

Fred Osuna said...

Genevieve - I happened upon your fine website while looking for info on wild plum blossoms. I am transcribing some letters from 1943 from a Minneapolis woman to her husband in WW2. She mentions gathering fragrant wild plum blossoms and using them for a centerpiece. Here is the letter I am referring to: Thanks again for an interesting and informative site...and I loved the poem! Fred Osuna

Monica in VT said...

Lovely poem. I found out this year that I have wild plums in my yard. The are so cute and sweet. I will certainly pay more attention next Spring to the blossoms, especially at night.

AbigailM said...

Thanks so much for posting that poem. I discovered it years ago, while paging through my parents' copy of that anthology. My mother said wild plum was her favorite scent. Just now it is on every breeze here, and I wanted the poem for an entry in my own blog ( Rather than go hunting through the dark house in hopes that it was back on the shelf where it ought to be, I searched on "wild plum at night." And lo and behold... !
Thanks again,

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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