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Purple Leaf Plum Prunus cerasifera

Previously known as:

  • Prunus mirabilis
  • Prunus orientalis
Phonetic Spelling
PROO-nus se-ra-SEE-fer-uh
This plant has low severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

The purple leaf plum or cherry plum is a medium-sized, ornamental, deciduous tree that is typically short-lived. The tree is upright and twiggy with a rounded to vase-shaped crown and brittle wood. Small, fragrant, pure white, 5-petaled flowers with numerous stamens bloom in the spring as the leaves emerge. The leaves are green, ovate, or elliptic with serrated margins.  Fruits, if produced, are cherry-like yellow or red and very attractive to birds. Varieties or cultivars of this species have deep reddish purple foliage and flowers of pale pink or lavender. The unique feature of these cultivars is that the leaves retain the purple color until they drop in the fall.

The purple leaf plum is native to southeast Europe, Central Asia, and the Himalayas. It currently only exists in cultivation except where it has escaped gardens and naturalized. In the United States, this tree has naturalized in portions of the northeast and far west. 

The genus name, Prunus, is Latin and means plum or cherry. The epithet, cerasifera, is derived from two Latin words, cerasus, meaning cherry tree, and ferre, which means to bear. 

This tree flowers best in full sun but will tolerate partial shade. It requires moist, well-drained, loamy soils; however, it is adaptable to many soil conditions. Due to the structure of the tree and its brittle wood, it may be short-lived. When purchasing this tree, the specimen must have a good central leader. If the tree is pruned and well-cared for it may live 60 to 80 years. 

The species is not usually found commercially and is not typically used as an ornamental; however, there are many varieties and cultivars available for purchase. The purple-leaved and pink-flowered cultivars are very popular with many gardeners because of their ornamental value. Most years, these ornamental trees produce little or no fruit. 

The purple-leaved cultivars are best used as a specimen in the home landscape, and their foliage adds three-season interest. This spring small flowering tree is a great addition to a Japanese garden, butterfly garden, or cottage garden.

Seasons of Interest:

Bloom:  Spring     Foliage:  Spring, Summer, and Fall     Fruits:  Summer

Quick ID Hints:

  • medium-sized, upright, spreading, rounded to the vase-shaped crown, twiggy, ornamental deciduous tree
  • thin reddish-brown to dark gray smooth bark  with lenticels, when young
  • as it matures, the bark splits and has furrows and ridges
  • leaves are alternate, simple, ovate, serrated margins, dark green, shiny with paler undersides with hairs along the veins
  • fragrant, white, 5-petaled, 1-inch in diameter flowers with numerous stamens
  • round, 1.25 inch, reddish to yellow drupes

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: The Purple leaf plum is susceptible to many insects and diseases. The potential insects include borers, aphids, scales, leafhoppers, caterpillars, tent caterpillars, Japanese beetles, and spider mites.  They are susceptible to diseases such as black knots, leaf spots, dieback, leaf curls, powdery mildew, root rot, and fire blight. This tree is frequently damaged by deer.

VIDEO created by Ryan Contreras for “Landscape Plant Materials I:  Deciduous Hardwoods and Conifers or Landscape Plant Materials II:  Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University

 

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Atropurea', 'Crimson Pointe', 'Krauter's Vesuvius', 'Newport', 'Nigra', 'Purple Pony', 'Purple Pony', 'Thundercloud'
Tags:
#fragrant#deciduous#small tree#fragrant flowers#interesting bark#specimen#wildlife plant#pink flowers#purple leaves#spring flowers#high maintenance#flowering tree#fast growing#cpp#border planting#pollinator plant#short lifespan#larval host plant#fruits summer#food source summer#border back#small group plantings#butterfly friendly#problem for cats#problem for dogs#problem for horses#eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly#landscape plant sleuths course
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
'Atropurea', 'Crimson Pointe', 'Krauter's Vesuvius', 'Newport', 'Nigra', 'Purple Pony', 'Purple Pony', 'Thundercloud'
Tags:
#fragrant#deciduous#small tree#fragrant flowers#interesting bark#specimen#wildlife plant#pink flowers#purple leaves#spring flowers#high maintenance#flowering tree#fast growing#cpp#border planting#pollinator plant#short lifespan#larval host plant#fruits summer#food source summer#border back#small group plantings#butterfly friendly#problem for cats#problem for dogs#problem for horses#eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly#landscape plant sleuths course
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Prunus
    Species:
    cerasifera
    Family:
    Roseaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Grafting
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Southeast Europe to Central Asia and the Himalayas
    Distribution:
    Native: Afghanistan, Albania, Bulgaria, East Himalaya, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Lebanon-Syria, Nepal, North Caucasus, Pakistan, Romania, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Xinjiang, and Yugoslavia. Introduced: Argentina, Austria, Baltic States, Belgium, Canada--British Columbia and Ontario, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, East European Russia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Morocco, Netherlands, New South Wales, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, South Australia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States--CA, CO, ID, MD, MA, NH, NY, OH, OR, PA, and WA.
    Wildlife Value:
    This is a larval host plant for Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). You may see three flights from February-November in the deep south and two flights from May-September in the north. Fruits are eaten by songbirds. Insects pollinate the flowers.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Attracts Pollinators
    Edible fruit
    Fragrance
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wildlife Larval Host
    Edibility:
    The fruits are edible and are used in tarts or jellies.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 15 ft. 0 in. - 30 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 15 ft. 0 in. - 25 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Dense
    Rounded
    Spreading
    Vase
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    High
    Texture:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    12-24 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8b, 8a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Drupe
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruit is a smooth, round, yellow, or red drupe that is up to 1.25-inches in diameter and ripens mid to late summer. Cultivars may be reddish-purple fruits. Fruits are not produced in great quantities.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Pink
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Head
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Shape:
    Radial
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    The flowers are fragrant, pure white, and 5-petaled with 20 to 30 stamens and 1 pistil. They are usually single but sometimes there may be two to three together. They are crowded on the twigs which makes them appear clustered. They measure 0.75 to 1-inch in diameter and bloom in April as the leaves emerge. The flowers of cultivars may be pink.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Obovate
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are alternate, simple, shiny, and green. The underside of the leaves is pale green. They measure 1.5 to 3 inches long and 1 to 1.25 inches wide. They are ovate, obovate, to elliptical with serrated margins, rounded base, and acute apex. They are downy along the midrib and veins on the undersides of the leaf. There are glands at the leaf base near the petiole. No significant fall color. Depending on the cultivar, the foliage may be purple, reddish-purple, red, or coppery-red, and they retain the color until the leaves drop in the fall.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Brown
    Dark Gray
    Red/Burgundy
    Surface/Attachment:
    Furrowed
    Lenticels
    Ridges
    Smooth
    Bark Plate Shape:
    Irregular
    Bark Description:
    The young bark is red-brown to dark gray and smooth with many horizontal lenticels. As the tree ages, the bark vertically splits and becomes irregularly ridged and furrowed.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Gray/Silver
    Red/Burgundy
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are dark reddish-brown to gray and thin. Spur shoots are presents. The buds are small.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Naturalized Area
    Small Space
    Landscape Theme:
    Asian Garden
    Butterfly Garden
    Cottage Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Design Feature:
    Flowering Tree
    Hedge
    Screen/Privacy
    Small Tree
    Specimen
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Pollinators
    Songbirds
    Problems:
    Problem for Cats
    Problem for Dogs
    Problem for Horses
    Short-lived
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    Low
    Poison Symptoms:
    Stems, leaves, and seeds contain cyanide, particularly toxic in the process of wilting: brick red mucous membranes, dilated pupils, difficulty breathing, panting, and shock.
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    Cyanogenic glycosides
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    No
    Poison Part:
    Leaves
    Seeds
    Stems