Key identifying feature.. Throughout
summer, purple, alternate, ovate leaves with serrated edges.
Common name.. Thundercloud Purple Leaf
Scientific name.. Prunus cerasifera
Mature height.. 15 to 25 feet
Mature spread.. 15 to 25 feet
Form.. Rounded vase shape grows to a
symmetrical dense canopy. The tree stands out in the landscape through summer because of its purple leaves against a mostly
green background and is best used as an accent plant, rather than as a mass planting or in a row of trees.
Fruit.. Purple, one- to three-inch round
drupes attract birds, squirrels and other mammals in summer.
Flowers.. Fragrant pale pink to almost
white flowers blossom in early spring before the leaves emerge, attracting bees.
Foliage.. Deciduous; purple leaves hold
on through the end of fall; the fall color is basically the same as the spring color: purple or deep red, not showy. Leaves
are simple, alternate, ovate with serrated edges.
Growth rate.. Officially: medium, 1 to
2 feet a year, but my tree has grown at a fast rate, more than 2 feet a year.
Culture.. Prefers full sun for the desired
purple leaf effect as a focal point tree. When grown in shade, the leaves will pale to nearly green. Tolerates many different
soil types, but the planting site should be well-drained.
Of special note.. Besides attracting
bees, the plum trees are susceptible to aphids, borers, tent caterpillars, scales (see photograph below), mealy bugs and other
pests. Also, a young tree tends to droop during a heavy rain and until the leaves dry. Sometimes the drooping is so bad, the
tree "trains" itself to droop even when dry, causing an undesired weeping effect in the landscape that can only be corrected
with pruning to alleviate the heaviest of branches. This tree is also reported to be short-lived, beginning to decline after
only 10 or 15 years. In other words, this is not exactly a problem-free, easy maintenance tree!
|Click the picture for the blog post about scales.
Julie's Comments.. (June 2004) This tree
is a prime example of how an inexperienced tree grower gains useful knowledge about a tree after the fact. I desired this
species simply because a mature one lives in a yard down the street and I often admired its purple beauty and beckoning shade
as I walked by. I knew I wanted to plant a tree in honor of the newest member of our family, Gregory, and I planned for the
new tree to be located next to the patio to provide shade for the tree house. But I didn't have a particular species in mind.
Then one day I was walking around the garden section of Lowe's and there she was, my new purple leaf plum.
.. Bradley took one look at her too, and said, "This is the one, mom." Bottom line:
never judge a tree on beauty alone. The fact that I planted this tree next to the kids' play area and that it attracts bees,
well, suffice to say that kids and bees don't mix. On top of that, the drooping problem I mentioned in the "Of Special Note"
section above has been more than a nuisance. I keep hoping that the tree just needs to gain some girth to be sturdy enough
to shake off the rain. In the meantime, I can only imagine the worst should an ice storm come our way. On the other hand,
my tree has not yet produced any fruit, so at least that hasn't been a problem. If it does start to produce fruit and drops
a mess next to the tree house, I'm going to have serious words with young Miss Plum!
Julie's Comments UPDATE.. (May
27, 2005) Bradley came down from the treehouse today holding a little round purple thingy. "Mom," he said, handing it to me.
"What's this?" What I want to know is, why didn't the tree tag include something about this being a messy, bee-attracting
.....Hmmm . . . .. five fruitless years was not long enough.
Planting date.. April
2001. Gregory was 6 months old when this plum was planted in his honor from a 4-gallon container on Arbor Day. My older son,
Bradley, stayed home from school for the big event, considering the day of planting a tree for his little brother a grand
holiday of dirt digging and donuts. In fact, I'm not sure which was more special to him: planting the tree or the trip to
Dunkin Donuts for a special treat. (When Bradley reminisces about planting day, he always points out how much he enjoyed the
donut excursion.) At planting time, the tree was about eight feet tall and had a 1.5-inch trunk. I don't have any pictures
from planting day because I was just trying to get the darn tree in the hole before the baby woke up!
DO OVER?.. No, I would
not plant this specimen again in my current yard. But I would admire its beauty in somebody's else's yard!