Cherry Plum, Prunus cerasifera

The cherry plum Prunus cerasifera is one of my favourite “native”* British trees. It was originally recommended to me by a local beekeeper as the easiest and most reliable tree to provide early forage for honeybees. He was right; the new cherry plum in the garden here started flowering at the beginning of March this year, and I have known them to flower from early February. What a lovely harbinger of spring!

cherry plum and honeybeeTheir blossom is attractive enough for them to be mistaken for native or ornamental cherries, although to my mind the cherry plum is more like Blackthorn, another Prunus. The flowers look similar, it’s as good a plant to lay in a hedge and has the odd spike to keep you wary of it. Although cherry plums are self fertile, the yellow or red cherry like fruit doesn’t appear reliably. It is said to make good wine, chutney or jam – i.e. it’s bitter! The birds seem to like it though, to add to the plant’s virtues.

They are very vigorous and disease free trees, and seemingly tolerant of most conditions. I guess this is what makes Myrobalan (a synonym for cherry plum) such a good rootstock for domestic plum trees. Don’t get confused by the tropical Terminalia chebula, by the way, also – bafflingly – known as Black Myrobalan. The trees are neat and small, forming nicely shaped round heads up to around 8m, with healthy looking glossy foliage. They’re tough as old boots and make excellent fast growing windbreaks. We planted some around our old orchard, which was a great success. In the garden of our new house they’re doing equally well, to the delight of my honeybees.

You often see the pink flowering cultivars in gardens, most probably P. cerasifera ‘Nigra’, which has lovely dark purple foliage.

* it was introduced from south eastern Europe long ago, but now naturalised across the UK.