Red plum (Prunus cerasifera) – Agromatic

In this article, we are going to delve into one of the most famous ornamental deciduous trees for various aesthetic reasons that differentiate it from many other trees and garden species. The red plum. The first reason is the coloring of its foliage (purple), the second its flowering, the third its size not too high and the fourth, its hardiness. All this makes it one of the most used trees in gardening in combination with others with green foliage.


Origin and distribution of red plum

Genre plum it is relatively wide. It consists of 254 currently recognized species. There are many taxa but they are synonymous or not yet resolved according to the plant list portal. Moreover, this genus is well known to those of us who are engaged in agriculture and to almost all lovers of fruit trees and gardening.

Fruits as abundant and typical as the peach (prunus persica), nectarines (prunus persica var. nucipera), plum, almond (prunus dulcis), cherry (avian prunus) or the apricot tree (Prunus armeniaca) all belong to this genus. In general, they are commonly referred to as “stone fruit trees”. All are called prunos alluding to the taxonomic genus.

In addition to purely fruit trees, we also have hundreds of ornamental ones and among them, the one that touches us today, Prunus cerasifera or red plum, or ornamental plum. This ornamental plum tree is ubiquitous in many European cities due to its great contrast to other deciduous ornamentals.

today the kind plum it is distributed all over the planet although it is native to Eastern Europe and China. The West brought it to Europe and brought it to America.

If there is no green, is there chlorophyll? And photosynthesis?

We all know that green is the color of chlorophyll. And we all know that chlorophyll is responsible, to a greater extent, for carrying out photosynthesis and converting CO2 into hydrocarbon compounds, expelling O2 as a waste product.

If you’re not sure, see the article Why are plants green? And what does this have to do with precision farming?

We should therefore deduce that a tree with permanently purple, purple or red leaves is incapable of photosynthesis because if there is no green, there is no chlorophyll. This is not entirely true. Let’s talk about plant pigments.

It’s not just chlorophyll that lives off the flora. There are other pigments which also have their purpose in absorbing radiation at other wavelengths. Let’s say that after millions of years of evolution, plants have been able to take advantage of solar radiation, in addition to chlorophyll, with other pigments such as carotenes (reddish, purple, orange, etc.) or xanthophylls ( pulling yellow).

Indeed, when a leafy tree loses its green color in the fall, it reabsorbs pigments to prepare for winter dormancy and not waste energy. The first to resorb is chlorophyll, leaving others like carotenoids to the light.

In the case of the red plum we’re talking about today, it’s not that it doesn’t have chlorophyll, of course it does. Only that the abundance of other pigments masks the green color of the famous photosynthetic molecule.

It is interesting to verify this fact with a very simple experiment that is done in schools and institutes all over the world to extract plant pigments from leaves. In this link we leave you an example. And below the photo of the pigments extracted from a red plum.

Chromatography with filter paper.

Characteristics of red plum

The name pissardii is nothing more than a cultivar or variety of ornamental red plum. There are other very similar varieties like “arthropurpurea” “orientalis”… In fact, the image of the flower and the leaf correspond to the cultivar arthropurpurea, very good photos by Salomé Bielsa.

Details of the flower and leaf of a red plum (Prunus cerasifera “arthropurpurea”)

It is a medium-sized tree that usually does not reach more than 4 or 5 meters with a balanced and relatively extensive crown in relation to its height. It has a thin, dark brown trunk and its purplish-red foliage creates an ornamental contrast with the rest of the green-toned species, much appreciated in tree compositions.

Flowering is its strong point. From the first flowering of ornamental trees in early spring and even in very late winters which had relatively high temperatures for the season. The flowering is absurdly abundant, pink in color, with an overall fluffy visual texture, which breathes life and really evokes the long-awaited spring, after the harsh, gray and cold winter.

Are red plum plums edible?

Yes. Absoutely. They are not big (the size of a cherry or a picota or other), they are not sweet since this species was not selected for its fruit but for its aesthetic characteristic, but they are edible. If they are allowed to mature too much and even pasify slightly, they can lose excess acidity and can be a very healthy snack.

They are also very suitable for making preserves and marmalades precisely because of the contrast of the acid touch with the sugar.

Ornamental red plum tree. Photo by: Forest and Kim Starr

Red plum treatment

temperature and lighting

It is a fairly hardy deciduous tree, so it withstands cold winters well in its usual lethargy. It resists up to -15 -20ºC persistently for several winter days.

Being ornamental, even if the flower is very early, we will not suffer from late frosts which prevent fruit set, since what interests us in this tree is its decorative character.

It is not a tree that should be in shady places, although it can survive without a problem. It needs full lighting to develop optimally. The orientation doesn’t matter as long as you don’t hide the south or south-east side too much (wall, house, wall…) to ensure good flowering and a more intense leaf color. Indeed, in very dark places, due to the lack of light, the leaves could turn green as a mechanism for capturing radiation to compensate for the lack of light.

Sun exposure is necessary for lush flowering.

Another important factor in obtaining spectacular flowering is the cold hours during the winter lethargy. This is called vernalization and we have already discussed it in Agromatics. A minimal accumulation of cold hours during the winter is necessary to stimulate good flowering.

Ground and subscriber

It is not too demanding a culture with the soil. Balanced characteristics as in most deciduous trees. Neutral soil (although it can support a slight acidity and basicity), of good structure, loamy or loamy clay, moist, with water retention capacity, aerated and rich in organic matter.

A specific fertilizer is not necessary to promote flowering. Maintaining a soil rich in organic matter by adding compost to the soil every 2-3 years will be more than enough for optimal development.


It has some drought tolerance, although irrigation should not be neglected, especially in summer when the heat is intense and the tree’s evapotranspiration is high.

Size and Breeding

It is one of the components, together with its rusticity, which makes this ornament one of the most famous. Being low to medium in height, with a naturally balanced crown, no more than maintenance pruning is needed depending on the crown shape we need, without reaching very extreme fitness levels. It is not a bush for topiary for example.

Proper pruning not only does not harm but promotes flowering.

Its reproduction by cuttings is very simple, using rooting hormones as support, a light substrate with plenty of organic matter available, humid and a sunny, indirect location protected from the cold.



  • It is a liquid product that promotes the rooting of plants
  • Provides maximum root development
  • Can be applied to all types of crops
  • It has activity by foliar absorption as well as by root absorption

It is a self-pollinating tree so there will be no fruit set problem if you are interested in this aspect.

Plagues and diseases

Illnesses are unlikely with good care. If they appear, they will be cryptogams (fungi) due to excess irrigation or moisture. It can be sensitive to aphids and possibly mealybug.

What makes the red plum tree successful compared to other ornamental plants?

  • The amazing pink bloom at the very beginning of spring even before the leaves come out.
  • Its hardiness in all kinds of climates.
  • Leaf color “so unusual” compared to other trees and plants with green foliage.
  • Its easy maintenance (pruning, irrigation, disease resistance, etc.)

The references

Cover photo: José Javier Martin.

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