Prunus pumila-Sand cherry


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Sand cherry is a suckering colonial shrub that tolerates a variety of challenging soil types including poor, excessively drained soils. Nice spreading ground cover for those tough spots that we would typically plant with some non-native juniper. Covered in a profusion of small white flowers in early spring, typically mid-May. The flowers have a clean, fresh, sweet smell that you can almost taste, reminding me faintly of trailing arbutus. Flowers just before beach plum. Small plum like fruits appear in August.

Prunus pumila can sometimes be prostrate, that is, growing low and close to the ground. Some specimens growth habit is more of an upright bush, albeit smaller in stature. So what’s going on here? Come to find out, there are four naturally occurring varieties of sand cherry in North America, some of which have been recognized as separate species. Let’s go down the rabbit hole, hang on, it’s a bit of a bumpy ride-

We have two species/varieties that are native to Maine- Prunus pumila var. depressa  and Prunus pumila var. cuneata which is also known as Prunus susquehanae.

Prunus pumila var. depressa, Dwarf sand plum, is prostrate and mat forming, growing on gravelly or sandy beaches and shores, talus slopes, and sandy roadsides. Grows from southern Quebec and Ontario, south to MA, NY, and NJ.

Prunus pumila var. cuneata  (Prunus susquehanae), Appalachian sand plum, is ascending to erect, and can be found in dry rocky woods, sandy fields, clearings, beaches, barrens and ridges. Grows from Maine to Manitoba and south to NC, IL, and IN.

The other two species Prunus pumila var. pumila  and Prunus pumila var besseyi grow further to our west.

Prunus pumila var. pumila is an erect form primarily found growing around the Great Lakes and adjacent areas.

Prunus pumila var besseyi is another ground hugging, mat forming, prostrate species that can be found MN southwest to IA, KS, ND, WY, and CO.

The plants we currently offer are either Prunus pumila var. pumila or Prunus pumila var. cuneata  (Prunus susquehanae), based on their more upright growth habit. When the leaves are out, it’s a bit easier to tell the two apart.

At the end of the day, it may be we are just splitting hairs, in the horticultural sense. Sand cherry, no matter the species or naturally occurring varieties, are all great ground covers for sandy, poor soils, and are great plants for wildlife.

2 gallon pot size, 12″-15″ high, $28.



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