What Is a Purple Leaf Plum Tree?

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Purple leaf plum is one of approximately 400 species of the Prunus genus.
Purple leaf plum is one of approximately 400 species of the Prunus genus. (Image: Purple Plum image by TekinT from Fotolia.com)

Purple leaf plum (Prunus cerasifera) is a species of small fruiting tree native to Asia and Europe. Specimens have been introduced to limited regions of North America and are naturalized in those areas. A number of cultivars of the species exist. These cultivars were developed specifically for gardening and landscaping purposes and exhibit traits such as alternate foliage color. Several prominent and destructive pests are attracted to purple leaf plum.

General Information

Purple leaf plum is a deciduous tree belonging to the prune, or Prunus, genus, along with cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds. Trees generally reach a mature height of 15 to 25 feet, though specimens as tall as 28 feet exist. A mature spread, or width, of 15 to 20 feet is common. Specimens are moderate growers and have rounded crowns. The species is alternately known as cherry plum on account of its relatively small fruit. This red-purple fruit is 1 inch in diameter. Trees bear fragrant white flowers that attract birds to the garden. The species is suited to growth in USDA zones 5 to 8.

Culture and Care

Purple leaf plum trees tolerate clay, sandy loamy, mildly alkaline and acidic soils, though will only flourish in well-drained environments with sun exposure. Pruning trees after flowers fall helps maintain plant health. Spring transplanting is ideal. Purple leaf plum trees are drought tolerant though are short-lived; specimens may decline after 10 years if not properly maintained. Trees have problems with borers, scale insects, tent caterpillars, cankers and leaf spots. Vigilance is necessary in maintaining plant health.

Distribution

Purple leaf plum is native to East Asia and southeast Europe. In North America the species gowns in three limited pockets. Two of these pockets are in the east, one in the west. The bigger eastern pocket consumes the American states New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, New Hampshire, Michigan and the Canadian province Ontario. The smallest pocket is in the southeastern United States and comprises Georgia and Tennessee. The western pocket comprises California, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Idaho and Montana. Purple leaf plum cultivars occur throughout the country in landscaping and gardening environments.

Cultivars

Purple leaf plum cultivars primarily differ from standard purple leaf plum in the color of foliage and flowers. New foliage of the Thundercloud cultivar appears as ruby red before turning reddish purple. Flowers exhibit as pink-white rather than the standard white of the species. The Newport purple leaf plum, however, exhibits bronze-purple foliage that turns dark purple. Flowers of this cultivar are blue-pink. Newport is a hardy cultivar commonly grown in the south. Other cultivars include Krauter Vesuvius, Pissard plum and Mt. Saint Helens.

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