The pre­fect plum

Manitoba Gardener Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Elva Rus­sell

The first hint that wild plums grow in Man­i­toba came to me when I heard the in­trigu­ing name of the town, Plum Coulee, pop­u­la­tion 800. Ap­par­ently, it was so named for the wild plums that grew along both sides of the creek flow­ing through town back in 1888, when the CPR made it an im­por­tant ter­mi­nus along its line.

Wild plums, Prunus ni­gra, do in­deed in­habit our prov­ince. Our lit­tle wild plum, com­monly known as Canada plum, has red­dish fruit that is some­what sour but very juicy. It grows across eastern Canada and it is said that Jac­ques Cartier was of­fered dried Canada plum when he reached the St. Lawrence.

Canada plum has a pleas­ing form, with some­what up­ward-reach­ing, nar­row-headed branches. Pre­fer­ring to grow in shade to part shade, it is lit­er­ally cov­ered in blos­soms in spring­time be­fore its leaves ap­pear. Its Latin name, Prunus ni­gra ( ni­gra mean­ing black), was given for its dark branches.

Per­haps one of the great­est virtues of this tree is its abil­ity to be a suc­cess­ful pol­li­na­tor for hy­brids that re­quire cross-pol­li­na­tion.

Pop­u­lar among gar­den­ers in this part of the world is the Pem­bina plum, a cross between the Canada plum

and the Asian plum, Prunus salic­ina. Its fra­grant white flow­ers are per­fectly com­pat­i­ble with the Canada plum, both of which blos­som in May fol­lowed by for­est green leaves that turn yel­low in fall. Hardy all the way to zone 2b, the Pem­bina plum pro­duces heavy crops in al­ter­nate years. The dark red fruit, oc­cur­ring in late sum­mer, has a sweet yel­low flesh that is de­li­cious eaten out of hand and ex­cel­lent for mak­ing jams and jel­lies.

The tree is an ex­cel­lent choice for city gar­dens as it grows to a height and spread of 15 to 20 feet with a medium growth rate and lives up to 40 years.

To­day, there are many plum va­ri­eties from which to choose, crosses that in­clude Prunus Amer­i­cana, na­tive to this con­ti­nent, Prunus do­mes­tica, the Euro­pean plum or Prunus salic­ina, the Ja­panese or Asian plum.

Plums are thought to be the very first fruit that was do­mes­ti­cated and they have a long and dis­tin­guished his­tory world­wide. They are one of the of­fi­cial flow­ers of China, where the Chi­nese make a salted, dried plum called hua mei that is a pop­u­lar snack food in Hawaii. The taste is sweet, sour and salty. Plum skins pick­led with li­corice are also ground into a red pow­der that is sprin­kled on candy or fruit.

Plum brandy is com­mon in eastern Europe. A plum with black skin, Prunus spinosa, also called sloes is used to make sloe gin. This is a plum that grows on a prickly shrub that was used to fence cat­tle. In an­cient times, sloe juice was used to make ink and also as a dye. Sugar plums, on the other hand, have noth­ing to do with plums. Sugar plums were made by sur­round­ing a car­away seed or an al­mond with lay­ers of hard­ened sugar us­ing a method called pan­ning, the same method that was used in cre­at­ing jaw­break­ers. I sup­pose you could also coat plums with sugar but that is not what was meant in the tra­di­tional Night be­fore Christ­mas poem.

Plums are high in fi­bre, beta-carotene, boron and potas­sium. They are very good sources of vi­ta­mins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, E and K. Like most blue and red fruits, they are chock­full of anti-ox­i­dants, and are touted as a cure for a myr­iad of ail­ments, from anx­i­ety to weight loss to choles­terol re­duc­tion. Sim­ple fact: Plums are good for you. Prunes are also good for you but each one con­tains about 23 calo­ries so di­eters be­ware.

Wild plum ( Prunus ni­gra) blos­soms.

Pem­bina Plum ( Prunus 'Pem­bina') fruit.

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