Quick facts

Common name: plum

Scientific name: Prunus domestica

Family: Rosaceae

Origin: non-native

Plum is a small broadleaf, deciduous tree or sometimes a shrub, with dark-brown bark. The branches grow straight and twigs are often spiny in wild plants.

Look out for: the leaf stem which is hairy, often with a pair of yellow-green coloured glands.

Identified in winter by: twigs which are ridged, starting green then turning purplish through to brown.

What does plum look like?

Plum tree leaf on white background

Credit: Nature Photographers Ltd / WTML

Leaves

These vary in shape, depending on the subspecies, but commonly they are oval with a short point at the top or teardrop-shaped. There are small teeth around the margins of the leaves and it is smooth on top. Some leaves will be downy underneath.

Plum blossom

Credit: P Tomlins / Alamy Stock Photo

Flowers

White flowers appear in clusters of 2–3 at the same time as the leaves.

Plum tree ripe fruit close-up

Credit: Tim Gainey / Alamy Stock Photo

Fruits

These are smooth, hairless and round to oblong shaped. They can be red, purple, yellow or green, each fruit containing one rough stone which is flat and slightly pitted.

Not to be confused with:

Other species from the genus Prunus, which includes cherries and stone-fruit trees.

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Did you know?

It's thought that plums originated from a hybrid between blackthorn (P. spinosa) and cherry plum (P. cerasifera).

Where to find plum

Plum can be found naturalised in hedges, wood borders, scrub and waste places. Many trees are relics of cultivation, while some are still being introduced to the countryside from discarded plum stones. It flourishes best in sheltered spots, away from cold winds and frosts as most plum trees flower and fruit early.

Value to wildlife

Plum is a foodplant for a large number of butterflies and moths, and its flowers attract many pollinating insects. The fruit is also a food source for birds and mammals.

Mythology and symbolism

The late production of fruit by the wild plum gives rise to the association of the plum tree with endurance and the vitality of life. It is a particularly important symbol in Chinese culture.

Plums in basket after being picked

Credit: Paul Harris / 2020VISION

Uses of plum

The fruit is used widely in food and drink production to create jams, preserves and alcoholic drinks. They develop their best flavour when allowed to ripen on the tree. There are basically two main types: European plum and Japanese plum. The flesh of the European plum is drier, with much lower water content than the Japanese, making it more suitable for drying. The timber is occasionally used for musical instruments but tends to be rarer as the trees are so small.

Did you know?

Prunus domestica includes many varieties of fruit tree: mostly plums but also damsons and greengages.

Threats and conservation

Plum trees can be at risk from plum-moth caterpillars that feed on the inside of the fruit, and brown scale, a sap-sucking insect.