This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V18", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
So many of our readers fail to distinguish the species of American plums that the following, prepared for Mr. Curley's recent work on "Nebraska," by Prof. Aughem, will help them.
"There are three type species of plums in the State, namely, Prunus americana, P. chicasa, and P. pumila. Of these there is an almost endless number of varieties. In a plum thicket in Dakota County, covering only a few acres, I counted, while in fruit, nineteen varieties of Prunus americana and P. chicasa, varying in size from a fourth to 1 1/4 inches in diameter, and in color from almost white and salmon, to many shades of yellow, tinged with green and red, and from a light, dark, and scarlet red, to purple tinged with different shades of yellow. Such instances are frequent over most portions of the State, the plums being common in almost every county, especially along the watercourses, and bordering the belts of timber. These plum groves in spring time present a vast sea of flowers, whose fragrance is wafted for miles, and whose beauty attracts every eye. The varieties of Prunus americana have oval or obovate leaves (broader at the tip than where the stem is attached), with saw-toothed or doubly saw-toothed edges and very full of veins. The fruit is globular or oval, and ranges from half an inch to 1 1/4 inches in diameter, the latter being an exceptionally large size. The color is all shades of yellow, with some red and crimson.
Its juice is pleasant but its skin is tough and acerb, and its stone is sharp-edged or margined. The shrub varies in height from 6 to 25 feet. The fruit ripens in August and the first half of September. These are the prevailing characters, but they vary greatly, some of the varieties producing fruit which is a great improvement in size and taste on the type species, while others again, have deteriorated. Still more subject to change is the Prunus chicasa, which grows from 4 to 12 feet in height, sometimes thorny, and always with long, narrow, almost lance-shaped, acute leaves, whose edges are set with very fine teeth. The fruit is globular, of all shades of red, and from half an inch to an inch or more in diameter, of pleasant, some varieties of delicious, flavor, thin-skinned, and containing an almost round and entirely marginless stone. The dwarf or sand-hill Cherry, so famous on our western plains, is really botanically a dwarf plum, Prunus pumila, and therefore we speak of it last. The stem is smooth, depressed, trailing or semi-erect, from 8 to 24 inches high. The leaves are obovate lanceolate, tapering to the base, sometimes a little toothed towards the apex, and pale underneath; the flowers numerous, two to four in a cluster.
The fruit varies greatly, but is generally about half an inch long and three-eighths broad, ovoid, dark purple, brown purple, brown, reddish, or nearly black, generally sweet, sometimes delicious and occasionally almost insipid. It is enormously productive. In one of the plates is represented a specimen of this fruit, natural size, taken from a shrub 13 inches high from the root, and found south of Lowell. The shrub has a spreading habit, forming dense masses, sometimes covering from 30 to 60 square feet of ground, but usually the tufts are not more than from 15 to 25 feet in area. It suckers abundantly from the roots, and propagates in this way as well as by seeds. It is found over the greater part of the western half of the State, and while it is not excluded from the richest soil if dry, it seems to be partial to sandy localities rich in alkaline earths. As this plum is nearly related to some of our cultivated varieties of cherries, and the stamens and pistils of the flowers are large in both, it will require no great skill to produce a cross between them; and as Fuller has remarked (Small Fruit culturist), a cross between the dwarf plum and a bigarreau or morella variety, retaining the dwarf habit, vigor, and productiveness of the former, with the flavor of the latter, would be an acquisition of incalculable value, and would completely revolutionize cherry culture.
However this may be, the best varieties of the dwarf cherry are valuable, as they come from the hand of Nature. Many an explorer and traveller in the unsettled regions has been refreshed by them, and the day is not distant when this fruit will, as it deserves to, have a place in the gardens of all the people."