Diversity and surplus: foraging for wild myrobalan plums

Cycling back from town this afternoon, Karin and I passed a hedgerow that was bursting with wild myrobalan or (cherry) plums (Prunus cerasifera). We had to stop and collect some, and soon filled a bag. What’s always intrigued me about these small, tart little plums is just how diverse they are: the image above shows the plums from six different trees. All of these are, in theory, the same species; but clearly there’s a lot of genetic diversity. In colour, the ripe fruits range from golden yellow through to dark purple, and vary in the amount of dark-contrasting streaking, lighter speckling, and waxy bloom. They are also variable in size, shape and taste.

All of this variation probably reflects the long history of cultivation of this European archaeophyte. The species is originally native to southeast Europe and western Asia, and was likely spread throughout Europe by the Romans. The local deer population is very fond of the fruit and we’re seeing a lot of deer droppings that are packed with seeds. We don’t usually think of these large mammals as seed dispersers, but I suspect that they are very successful in that ecological role.

As well as being a great source of wild fruit, for humans and wildlife alike, at the other end of the year these trees are important for pollinating insects. As I pointed out in my book Pollinators & Pollination: Nature and Society, Prunus cerasifera is one of the earliest flowering woody plants in northern Europe, and its flowers are an important nectar and pollen source for early emerging bumblebee queens, hoverflies, and honey bees.

Delicious, abundant fruit combined with a valuable role for pollinators: what’s not to like?

3 thoughts on “Diversity and surplus: foraging for wild myrobalan plums

  1. spamletblog

    I used to collect them frequently for wine making (though the wine tastes like cider: not plums). I’ve read that their abundance in the UK is due to the whips being imported by farmers, as the fastest growing, and earliest flowering hedgerow making species.

    To try an ensure a supply, when I could not get out and about, I brought home whips from ‘scrub bashing’ days, and planted a hedge in my garden. For a number of years, they started flowering around Feb 11th, and I got a lot of fruit, but, the flowering time gradually got later and later, and the fruit sparser and sparser, until now, I have a garden completely overrun with suckers, and there is never any fruit, though there is still a nice floral display at the end of March.
    I interpret this, as the winters not being cold enough for the treees to ‘set their clocks’, and quite the opposite effect to what many people are expecting from a warming climate.

  2. spamletblog

    Glad to hear it. They were always a welcome reward for getting out recording with local BNA and fungus groups. Second only to finding black cherries or walnuts in the hedgerows! 🙂


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