On a very hot scouting trip in North Louisiana I came to a thicket of the plummy kind. This particular patch of choked brush was found by my father, and a hunting buddy several years ago when they were bushogging an access trail to a deer stand. They noticed little golden colored balls in the trees. His friend squished one, tasted it, and went wide eyed because it was sweet and a little tart!
They had discovered a wild plum patch.
I’ve been on that property many times during the spring and summer, but every time I went it was either blooming or the birds and other critters had cleaned out all the plums. Not this year! Even though there weren’t lots of plums, I managed to collect a few. As with most things I seem to encounter in the outdoors, I “shoulda been there yesterday.” However, I was able to gather up a few to munch on, and bring home to make some Wild Plum Wine.
Native Americans Helped Spread This Plum
The Chickasaw Plum as it is commonly called (also called Cherokee Plum, Sandhill Plum, and probably other names) is known to be a wild plum with an interesting history. It was known to have been cultivated by Native Americans even before the discovery of the Americas and subsequent colonization by Europeans. The native peoples would eat the fruit outright, or dry it for little sugar action during the winter months. It was a great source of vitamins, minerals, and sugars during the hot summer months in the South. This plant is known to have been intentionally spread by various Native American trips to increase its range, and provide them with a greater abundance of this sweet summer treat. Birds and other animals would do the rest by eating the fruit and depositing the pit (along with a little of their own fertilizer) all over the animals travel routes.
Habitat – Where to find the Chickasaw Plum
This particular tree loves sandy soil, but will grow just about anywhere it is allowed to establish, and get full to mostly full sun. It is common throughout most of the United States, except the extreme northern states. Pretty much any state where it can get enough chill hours to produce fruit, but doesn’t get turned into a plum-cicle every year is where it will take hold.
Identification of the Chickasaw Plum
It can be a bit tricky to distinguish the Chickasaw Plum from a few other wild plums. I must admit that I’m not even certain that I haven’t found a hybrid between the Chickasaw and American Plum. The Chickasaw Plum can be hard to distinguish from the American Plum (Prunus americiana) as well as the Flatwood Plum (Prunus umbellata). Honestly, I don’t give a crap which one it is, as long as the fruit tastes good, because they are all equally edible; however, the Flatwood is known to be somewhat bitter on occasion.
The Chickasaw will be roughly 5 to 15 feet tall (some get taller but most are short). Unless they are quite old, the diameter of the trees are not usually very large, and have a thicket like appearance.
Prunus is Latin for “plum,” and augustifolia means “thin leaf.” They do have a skinny leaf. They flower in the spring time and will have 5 white petals. The fruit can be anywhere from bright yellow (as were all of the fruits from this thicket) to red. The fruit is round, and under an inch in diameter (most being roughly 1/2″).
The bark is dark brown to red-ish, and has that characteristic Prunus look to it (i.e. it looks like a peach, plum, etc. tree).
Time of Year
The Chickasaw Plum (in my neck of the woods) will flower in the spring/late summer. Fruit will ripen in June, usually before the 4th of July. The pictures for this article were taken June 13th, and I was a little late. There were ripe fruit still left, but I probably missed the big harvest (but I made myself a note for next year). There were still a few green fruit despite being later in the year.
The Chickasaw Plum’s natural inclination to turn into a thicket allows it to provide nesting habitat for a variety of wildlife such as turkeys, quail, deer, songbirds, etc. This particular patch had a deer bed under the thicket. They also provide food for a variety of species. Their thicket growth pattern also make them ideal to prevent soil erosion in sandy areas where other plants may not take root because of dry conditions or soil type. This tree is quite drought tolerant, and will grow in just about any type of soil (all the while providing food for people and/or wildlife).
What do you use the Chickasaw Plum for?
They are great to eat right off of the tree as a raw fruit. They are sweet with a little tang from the skin. Reports are they make great jams or jellies, and pies (never tried it myself because of what else they are known to make).
What was my reason for picking these little beauties, you ask? WINE BABY! They are known to make a pretty good plum wine, and that they did!