Dwayne Elmore

One of things I like most about Oklahoma is the Chickasaw plum, or as it is more commonly known, the sand plum.

It is difficult not to like this plant as it is an early bloomer, stays compact, produces a nice fragrance and is a wonderful wildlife plant. Despite these attributes, the sand plum and I had an awkward introduction.

The first time I made my way to Oklahoma was on a turkey hunt many years ago. Having driven halfway across the country, I was a little jumpy at the gate and made a poor shot on the first day.

Being careful to ensure I indeed did not kill the gobbler, I spent hours searching the brush to look for any sign. My attitude was anything but upbeat, and the nasty thorns that some unknown shrub inflicted upon me were further insulting.

Yet, my blood pressure was tempered by a delicate sweet fragrance from this small shrub I later learned was the sand plum. That calming scentwas my salvation in an otherwise low day.  

Sand plum is one of several species of plum native to Oklahoma, but it is certainly the most widespread and well known. Its compact dense growth form makes it important for many species of birds.

The Northern bobwhite and the Bell’s vireo, in particular, make use of it for cover. Wildlife and humans alike enjoy the fruit in years that spring frosts spare them.

This is a clonal species, meaning it produces many above ground stems arising from a central common root system. Therefore, when you see a thicket or “motte” of sand plum, they are often all the same plant. The plant is well adapted to fire and will resprout from the extensive root system when fire removes the stems.

While it is not the most rapid of shrubs to grow following fire, within a few years, it typically attains its original preburn stature. The plant is widespread across the central and eastern United States, although it is uncommon in some areas.

While we typically think of sand plum during spring and summer as it is fruiting, it has year around attraction. This, along with its low maintenance requirements, makes it a nice addition to the home lawn, particularly in sandy,dry soils.  

Dwayne Elmore is Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist in the department of natural resource ecology and management.

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