Prunus domestica, the common or European plum, is a small deciduous tree in the Rosaceae (rose family) that is an ancient domesticated species, known only in cultivation, that is now cultivated in temperate areas worldwide for its fruit. The species, which was first recorded in cultivation by the Syrians and then the Romans, and spread to western Europe during the Crusades, is likely derived from one or a combination of several Eurasian progenitors: cherry plum (P. salicifera); sloe (P. spinosa); and damson plum (P. insititia).
Other species known as plums include the American plum, P. americana, and the Japanese plum, P. salicina, as well as various hybrids and several other wild species. “Prune” refers either to a dried plum or to any of the freestone plum varieties, in which the pit separates easily from the flesh, which allows for the fruit to be pitted before drying. (Many plum varieties do not have easily removed stones, but these are generally eaten fresh or processed into juices, jams, or jellies.) Prune plums may be eaten fresh as well as dried.
The plum tree grows 9 to 15 m (29 to 50 ft) tall, and has reddish-brown twigs with few or no spines; young twigs are often pubescent (covered with short, downy hair). The leaves are oval to oblong, up to 10 cm (4 in) long, somewhat serrated or with wavy margins. The 5-petalled white flowers occur singly or in clusters of 2 or 3. The fruit is up to 8 cm (3 in) long, and is round to oval drupe with a hard, stony, flattened pit (with a smooth or slightly pitted shell). Fruit colors vary considerably across varieties, ranging from green to yellow to red to purple to black, often with a glaucous (white waxy) bloom on the surface.
Plums, which are high in potassium and vitamins C and K, and are a good source of dietary fiber, are eaten fresh, dried, or prepared into preserves, jams, jellies, and juices. They are used in baked goods and puddings, or as a condiment alongside meat dishes. They are used in various alcoholic beverages, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, including the plum brandy known as slivovitz.
The FAO estimates that the total commercial harvest of plums and sloes in 2010 was 12.0 million metric tons, harvested from 2.5 million hectares. China is the leading producer, responsible the largest share of the global harvest, followed by the U.S., Serbia, Romania, and Chile. Within the U.S., California produces more than 90% of the commercial harvest, with additional production in Idaho, Michigan, Oregon and Washington, for a total market value of over $80 million.
(Bailey et al. 1976, Boriss et al. 2011, FAOSTAT 2012, Hedrick 1919, van Wyk 2005.)
- Bailey, L.H., E.Z. Bailey, and the L.H. Bailey Hortatorium. 1976. Hortus Third: A concise dictionary of plants cultivated in the United States and Canada. New York: Macmillan. p. 918.
- Boriss, H., H. Brunke, and M. Kreith, revised by D. Huntrods and G. McKee. 2012ß. Plum profile. Iowa State University. Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. Retrieved 24 June 2012 from http://www.agmrc.org/commodities__products/fruits/plum-profile/.
- FAOSTAT. 2012. Searchable online statistical database from Food and Agriculture Division of the United Nations. Retrieved 24 Feb 2012 from http://faostat.fao.org/site/567/DesktopDefault.aspx?PageID=567#ancor.
- Hedrick, U.P., ed. 1919. Sturtevant’s Notes on Edible Plants. State of New York. Dept of Agriculture. 27th annual report, vol. 2, part II. Albany, NY: J.B. Lyon Co. p. 460.
- van Wyk, B.-E. 2005. “Prunus domestica.” Food Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide. Portland, OR: Timber Press. p. 308.
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