Beach Plum

Prunus maritima

Herbs gallery - Beach Plum

Common names

  • Beach Plum

The beach plum, scientific name Prunus maritime, is a type of plum that grows in the coastal areas of Eastern United States. Some sources claim that the tree can also be found in New Brunswick but this appears to be false since it is absent from both collections and the best scientific works on the area. The beach plum tree inhabits only the East Coast of the USA, between Maine and Maryland.

Like most of its relatives from the plum family, the species is a shrub with deciduous leaves. Its native range is along the Atlantic coast of the United States of America. It thrives on sand dunes in beach habitats and can be very successful even when half of the shrub is covered by sand. The natural range of the beach plum starts in Maryland in the south and ends in the state of Maine in the north. The intensive coastal construction in Maine has made it a threatened species due to loss of habitat.

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Due to their native habitat, beach plums enjoy sandy grounds with good drainage, in full sun exposure. The plant uses root suckers and tap roots to expand in size, if the soil allows it. Because of the very extensive system of roots, the shrubs are often chosen to stop erosion in coastal areas and provide stability to sand dunes. The beach plum is also well adapted outside its natural beach habitat and can be grown inland, as long as the soil has good drainage.

As a seaside species, the beach plum is not affected by salt water, salty soils, cold temperature or strong winds. It can reach heights of 1 or 2 m in the wild but grows as high as 5 m tall in gardens with proper conditions. An interesting feature of the plant is that leaves appear after the flowers. They have a length between 3 and 7 cm, with 2 to 4 cm in width. Leaves are alternate, with a strong green top color and a pale green one underneath. The branches are often bent due to the heavy weight of the fruits, which are grouped in formations resembling grapes.

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The beach plum is a spectacular sight in the spring, when clusters of flowers blossom. Flowers are initially white and consist of five petals. After they are pollinated, the color of the flowers changes into pink. A distinctive feature of the flowers is their long stamens, which end with sizeable yellow anthers. Fruits become ripe at the end of summer, when there many birds come to consume them. The beach plums resemble normal plums or cherries and can replace these stone fruits in most recipes.

Beach plums are spherical and small in size, with a diameter of no more than 1-2 cm when ripe. The unripe fruits are red, with a very bitter hard flesh. Once ripe, the fruits become blue or purple and have numerous uses. They can be turned into wines, jams, jellies or cordials. The fruit is very popular in the north-eastern coastal areas of the USA, where it has commercial value and it is an ingredient in bakery goods. The early European colonists have used it as a substitute for European fruits in their traditional jellies and jams. Today, it is an important local ingredient in coastal resorts and restaurants.

Drifting sand dunes can sometimes partially bury the shrub, which does not affect it. Extensive construction works in the coastal areas of Maine have reduced its habitat and made it endangered in the state. The fruits are typically harvested at the end of summer or start of autumn.

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Almost all of the related plants from the genus produce a quantity of hydrogen cyanide, a very toxic compound that is behind the specific almond flavour. In most related plants, hydrogen cyanide is concentrated in the seeds and leaves. While there is no clear proof that beach plums have a content of this poison, the possibility can't be excluded. The compound is normally found in very low amounts that are not dangerous at all. However, any fruit with a bitter taste should not be consumed, as a general precaution. Hydrogen cyanide might actually provide health benefits in trace amounts, since some studies claim it can fight cancer and regulate digestion and respiration. In toxic doses, it leads to respiratory failure and sometimes death.

Parts used

Fruits.

Uses

Like most fruits, beach plums are very rich in vitamin C. Other bioactive compounds found in sizeable amounts are neochlorogenic, chlorogenic acid, cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, lutein and other phytonutrients. Most of these compounds have an antioxidant action and protect tissues and cells from the destructive action of free radicals. An important benefit of beach plums consumption is that essential fats, especially the ones found in brain cells, are no longer damaged by oxidation.

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Extracts from the beach plum are known to combat obesity and various related problems. It has been known for a long time that eating any type of stone fruit provides the body with a number of bioactive compounds that can regulate the metabolism. It is believed that the most powerful of these substances are chlorogenic acids, quercetin, anthocyanins and catechins. These phenolic compounds and flavonoids have an anti-inflammatory action and fight obesity by acting at a cellular level. In addition, many of the issues caused by obesity are decreased, like heart diseases, diabetes or very high levels of cholesterol in the blood.

Besides being a strong antioxidant, vitamin C also boost the body's immune reaction. This can counter common cold, flu and make the organism more resilient against a wide range of infections.

Modern studies have investigated some of the compounds found in beach plums. The flavonoids in the juice were found to have an effect on the cognitive problems caused by aging. They combat the inflammation of the neural areas, which preserves the memory and logical thoughts. For the same reason, eating beach plums constantly protects from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases and can improve the condition of people who already suffer from such neurodegenerative issues.

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Habitat and cultivation

The original range of the beach plum consists of the dunes at the edge of coastal areas. It enjoys similar environments, with sandy ground and full sun exposure. It doesn't like soils with a high amount of clay but grows well in any other soil with proper drainage, from fertile to acidic or loamy...\h_menu\limestone.htm

In cultivation, loamy soils are a great choice, as well as limestone-based ones. However, if the lime composition is too high, the plant can become chlorotic. It is well adapted to marine conditions, like strong sun exposure, salty waters or powerful winds. Beach plum is cultivated commercially for the value of its edible fruit. Like many related plants, beach plum is vulnerable to honey fungus. Damage to the roots will result in suckers, since the system is not very deep.

Seeds are viable and can be used for propagation. After cold stratification for 2 or 3 months, the seed can be placed in a cold frame. This should be done as closer to the start of the year as possible and the seeds must be protected from rodents. Germination is sometimes a very slow process, in some cases the seedling emerges after one year and a half. As soon as they can be handled, the young shoots have to be moved to individual pots. Keep them inside or in a cold frame during the first winter and move them to the final location during the spring. Cuttings of semi ripe wood can be placed in a frame during the summer, with layering in the spring.

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