The Plum tree rises fifteen feet in height, branching into a moderately spreading head; the leaves are ovate, serrated, and on short petioles; petals white. The natural colour of the fruit is generally considered to be black; but the varieties in cultivation are of yellow, red, blue, and green colours, and of different forms and flavours. There are several good sorts that grow wild in the hedges of Britain, and also in America, but its original country is supposed to be Asia; and according to Pliny, it was taken from Syria into Greece, and from thence into Italy. There are many varieties cultivated in France; and in the London Horticultural Garden there are about three hundred sorts kept under name. The Green Gage is considered the best dessert Plum, and the Egg Plum for sweetmeats; but the Damson is the best baking Plum.
The Plum is said to succeed best in a lofty exposure, and may yield well in the mountainous parts of the United States; it yields well near Albany, but the fruit is by no means plentiful in the vicinity of the city of New-York. Like the Nectarine, it is subject to the attacks of the Curculio, and other insects.
It has been observed that Plum trees growing in frequented lanes or barn-yards, are more generally fruitful than those cultivated in private gardens, or secluded situations; this circumstance is by some attributed to the jarring of the trees, by cattle and swine rubbing against them; thus causing the defective fruit to fall on the ground. Geese kept in orchards or fruit gardens, often prove beneficial; as they, by devouring the defective fruit and other corruptible matter, prevent the possibility of insects getting into the ground, so as to perpetuate their existence, or multiply their species.
Cobbett attributes the scarcity of Plums in New-York to neglect In his American Gardener, paragraph 320, he asks, "How is it that we see so few Plums in America, when the markets are supplied with cart-loads in such a chilly, shady, and blighty country as England?"
I would answer this query by informing the reader, that the inhabitants of our parent country, with a view to derive the full benefit of the sun's rays for the cultivation of Plums, Peaches, Nectarines, and such other fruit as require extra heat, train their trees against walls, fences, or trellis-work; and from their having these means of support, gardeners have no inducement to plant them deeper than is necessary; whereas, from the circumstance of the American climate being sufficiently warm to ripen those fruits on standard trees, they are generally so cultivated. Many persons, to save the trouble of staking, or otherwise supporting their trees, plant them too deep, and thus defeat the operations of nature. That this is a prevalent eiror, has been shown in the articles Nectarine and Peach, to which the reader is referred for a more concise view of the subject.
New varieties of the Plum are produced from seed; and the old kinds are generally propagated by budding on stocks of free-growing Plums, in preference to grafting, because Plum trees are very apt to gum wherever large wounds are made in them. All the sorts produce their fruit on small natural spurs rising at the ends and along the sides of the bearing shoots of one, two, or three years' growth. In most sorts, new fruit branches are two years old before the spurs bear. The same branches and spurs continue fruitful, in proportion to the time which they take to come into bearing.
After the formation of the head is begun, it takes from two to six years before the different sorts come into bearing. Standards must be allowed to expand in free growth, occasionally pruning long ramblers and irregular cross branches. In annual pruning, thin crowded parts, cut away worn out bearers, and all decayed and cankery wood. The Plum may be cultivated in small gardens, trained as espaliers, or to a close fence, like the Apricot, etc.
The tree is of farther use than for its fruit as a dessert, etc.; the bark dyes yellow; the wood is used by turners; and the dried fruit, or prune, is formed into electuaries and gentle purgatives. Prunes were originally brought from Damascus, whence their name.