The Native Pacific Plum

  The wild plum is one of nature's rarest and most unique fruits.  It grows at the edges of Oregon, California and Nevada's northern high desert at altitudes between 4000 and 7000 feet.  Here it tolerates great extremes of heat, cold, alkaline soils, and drought.  In its native state, the wild plum grows on a large bush five to six feet tall.  The fruit is similar to a cherry in size and has a distinctive tart flavor.  The Indian tribes of this area gathered the ripe fruit and dried it for winter to garnish their wild fowl and game.  In 1832, Hudson Bay trappers on their southwest expedition from Canada to California arrived in this area starved and weary.  They killed their first deer in many months and also discovered this delicious fruit they named the Wild Plum.  The wild plum was rediscovered in 1843 by Oregon Trail pioneer, Captain Lassen, on his route to California.  He transplanted them in the Sacramento Valley, but due to climate and soil differences, they would not reproduce.  


What is the Wild Plum

The Pacific or Western plum (Prunus subcordata, Bentham) is a native species found growing wild in a relatively limited region east of the Coast Range from southern  Oregon to central California. It occurs in greatest abundance in Lake and Klamath counties in Oregon and Modoc and Sierra counties in California.  While the greatest

concentration of the native thickets in California seems to be in the general vicinity of Mount Shasta, the plum is found in more or less abundance east and south of the Nevada line, especially in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas.  It has been reported as far south as Yosemite Valley.
    The plum usually forms thickets of small to large shrubby trees along streams in canyons, on hillsides, or in the open area of pine forest.  In other cases the thickets are found on ridges which are thought to be the shore lines of prehistoric lakes. There is a general similarity in the sites on which the plum thrives and spread throughout the region, so much so that one can almost predict the location of the thickets.
    The largest trees are found in these thickets growing on the deeper, sandy-loam soils in the canyons where water is ample, and the richer bottomlands adjoining the old lake beds. The hardiness of the species and its ability to adapt itself to adverse conditions is typified by the scrubby little thickets found growing out of rock slides at high elevations.  An occasional thicket is found, however, where drought or exposure has all but killed out the stand.
    The region in which the plum is native has an elevation of 1,000 to 5,000 feet, although it has been observed growing in favorable locations in the mountains of the region at elevations as high as 6,000 feet.  At these higher elevations the plums are less apt to bear crops and are late in ripening.
Reference:  The Native Pacific Plum, A.N. Roberts, L.A. Hammers, Agricultural Experiment Station, Oregon State College.



Map showing where the plums grow.