Plants We Love: Prunus maritima (Beach Plum)

On Saturday September 22, 2012. Oehme, van Sweden Principal Eric Groft (MLA ’84)attended the 24th Annual Deans Forum for the Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia.

Oehme, van Sweden founding partner Wolfgang Oehme had a well-deserved reputation for eating the fruits of his labor, and his enthusiasm for foraging was infectious. On a sweltering 100-degree day last week, while gazing at a succulent crop of Prunus maritma at one of our recent projects, I remembered the happy abandon (approaching glee) with which Wolfgang would chomp on a wild or garden plant. The project site I was inspecting is a ten-acre residential estate on a sandy peninsula jutting into the brackish waters at the confluence of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. Among the plants we installed last spring were thirty Prunus maritima (Beach Plums). I was thrilled to find their silvery blue-green leaves sparkling in the unrelenting sun and playing off the bluish hues of Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Blue Heaven’ (Little Blue Stem). Though we planted small specimens last year, a crop of ripening marble-sized purple fruit dangled invitingly from the Prunus. Snacking on a sweet, succulent drupe (its flavor a cross between a grape and a plum) in the summer heat was a moment to savor.

Prunus maritima is a rounded, suckering shrub with reddish bark, growing to six feet in height. Its showy display of white flowers in May is startling against sandy dunes in its native environment and a welcome sign of spring in the coastal garden. The fruit ripens in mid-summer and remains through early fall. People aren’t the only ones to enjoy the sweet fruit; they are enjoyed by birds and other wildlife as well. The presence of this native beauty in the garden reminds me that a restored natural ecosystem can be a deeply engaging habitat for people too.

Native Range: Coastal Virginia north to Maine
USDA Hardiness: to zone 3
Height: to seven feet
Growing Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soils; salt tolerant