Red leaved plum trees

What Gardening Enthusiasts Must Know About Purple Leaf Plum Trees

Purple leaf plum is a deciduous ornamental tree cherished for its beautiful purple leaves and small pink colored flowers. Find out more about its maintenance and care.

Purple leaf plum tree (Prunus Cerasifera) is an ornamental tree, which is mainly popular for its rich purple or reddish foliage. It was in 1880 that this plant was introduced to the western world by M. Pissard, who brought it from Persia to France.

Purple leaf Plum tree is commonly known as cherry plum and myrobalan plum, this tree is now available in many hybrid varieties, the most popular being the Prunus Cerasifera Thundercloud, thanks to its exuberant reddish-purple foliage. The other widely grown cultivar is Prunus Cerasifera Atropurpurea which also has vivid purple leaves. This tree is quite popular in many parts of the United States.

Tree Description

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Purple leaf plum tree is a small plant. The lifespan of this tree is comparatively short, as It generally lives up to 20 years on an average. It can reach a height of 25 feet, however, many of them are found in the range between 15 to 25 feet. At maturity, the tree grows to a width of 20 to 25 feet.

The ornamental purple leaf plum tree is really attractive due to its purple leaves and beautiful pale pink or white flowers. These characteristic leaves are ovate with serrated margins and grow to a length of about 1.5 – 3 inches.

The tree starts flowering early in the spring, i.e. from February to April with small, fragrant light pink or white colored flowers. Purple leaf plum tree is one of those few trees, whose blooming marks the arrival of spring. The leaves appear just after the fading of the flowers. Leaves are generally shed in the month of August and by the end of September, the tree completely loses its foliage.

Purple leaf plum trees bear small, deep red or purple colored fruits in July. The fruits are usually about the size of a cherry and ripen in August. They are edible, and can be eaten raw or used to make jam, depending on whether they are sweet or sour. Squirrels and birds are frequent visitors to the tree to feast on these fruits. Seeds are the unit for propagation, though you can also use vegetative parts for that purpose.

How to Grow

Planting

Purple leaf plum tree can be grown in any soil type, though a rich loamy soil is preferred, and it should be moist and well drained. A slightly acidic soil is suitable for planting this tree, though it can be grown in other types of soil too.

The place selected for growing this tree should be well exposed to sunlight. The trees that are grown in shady areas usually produce green and not purple leaves. Though it can withstand heat and drought to some extent, watering during summer will prove beneficial for the healthy growth of the tree.

Pruning

This is a very important part of maintenance and care for the purple leaf plum tree. Pruning can encourage blossoming of this tree and make it more attractive. It is also important to remove the damaged and dead branches occasionally to retain the ornamental value.

Watering should be done on a regular basis, but do not water the plant too often. If it gets too hot, water the tree deeply at its base. A point to note is that a young plum tree has a tendency to bend, especially after a rain. Though it does regain its former posture once the leaves have dried completely, a heavy rain can result in permanent drooping. This problem can also be solved by pruning.

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Though the tree is great for enhancing the look of your garden and lawn, the flowers can attract many undesirable insects. Bees will be more common during the flowering season, while the tree is also vulnerable to tent caterpillars, aphids, mealy bugs and other pests.

You may also witness some diseases like gray mold, cankers and leaf spots that can diminish the beauty of the purple leaf plum tree. Therefore, make sure to take care of this tree to give an attractive and fresh look to your garden.

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Edibility of Ornamental Tree Fruit

Ornamental trees, such as crabapples and purple-leaved plums, are planted in the home landscape for their flowers or colorful foliage. While chiefly ornamental, these trees also produce fruit resembling those on fruit trees. As the fruits mature, questions concerning their edibility often arise.

Fruit from ornamentals, such as crabapples and purple-leaved plums, are edible. However, the eating quality of some ornamental fruit is rather poor. These trees were selected for their ornamental characteristics rather than the eating quality of their fruit.

The crabapple (Malus spp.) is an example of a common ornamental that also produces edible fruit. Apples and crabapples are differentiated strictly on the size of their fruit. Crabapples are defined as those varieties with fruit 2 inches or less in diameter. Those with larger fruit are apples. At maturity, crabapple fruits vary from yellow to orange to bright red. The fruit of some crabapple varieties color and ripen in August, others mature in the fall. (The colorful, persistent fruit of many of the newer crabapple varieties are actually an important ornamental characteristic.) While all crabapple fruit can be used in making jellies and preserves, large-fruited varieties, such as Whitney and Chestnut, are the best.

Purple-leaved plums (Prunus cerasifera), such as Newport, Thundercloud, and Mount Saint Helens are planted in the home landscape for their white or pink flowers and purple foliage. In most years, ornamental plums produce little or no fruit as they bloom so early that pollination is generally poor. Occasionally, however, they produce a good crop of fruit. At maturity, the edible fruits are approximately 1 inch across and dark purple in color.

The new growth of Canada Red and Schubert chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) emerges green, but quickly turns to a maroon red. The small trees produce clusters of white flowers in spring followed by round, 1/3-inch diameter fruit. At maturity, the fruit are dark purple to black. Though bitter, the mature fruit can be used for jams, jellies, and juices. Autumn Blaze, Chanticleer, and Redspire are ornamental pears (Pyrus calleryana) grown for their glossy dark green foliage and small white flowers in early spring. Ornamental pears generally produce only small numbers of fruit. The inedible fruit are roundish, 1/3-inch across, and tan to brown in color.A word of caution. If you are uncertain of the identity of a tree or shrub, don t eat the fruit. It s better to be safe than sorry.

This article originally appeared in the 8/8/2003 issue.

Prunus cerasifera

Leaves: Deciduous. Leaves are elliptical or oval shape with a blunt pointed tip. 1½ -2½” long and ½ as wide. Leaf edges have fine, blunt serrations. Dark purple or violet-red to purple-green leaf color. Some leaves may brown in hot, dry conditions. No significant fall color.

Bark/Twigs: Bark is characteristically dark in color. Smooth and dark purple to silver gray when young. Roughens with age to very dark gray, almost black.

Flowers/Fruit: Light pink, 1” diameter flowers have five petals. One of the first trees to bloom in the early spring (March-April). Flowers usually bloom before leaves emerge, but sometimes the leaves emerge around the same time. Small, 1” edible dark purple plums are produced each year and mature mid-summer.

Mature size and shape: Small to medium. 15-30’h x 15-25’w. Rounded with open spreading branches. Fairly dense.

General information/special features: Plant in full sun for richest leaf color. Shade intolerant. Prefers well-drained soil. Performs well in a variety of moist soils. Adaptable to a variety of settings. Not particularly tolerant of pollution and are relatively short lived, about 20 years due to numerous serious insects and diseases.

Landscape use and Maintenance: Good ornamental tree. May be planted singly or in groups. Can be planted as a street tree, but fruits can be very messy over sidewalks. Fast growing rate. High maintenance. Transplant in spring. Prune after flowering.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9

Family/Origin: Rosaceae – Rose. Native to western Asia and cultivated for centuries.

Campus use: Somewhat common. Can be found in President’s Circle or southwest of the Union (Bld 53).

Ornamental Trees

Elm (Ulmus)

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‘Frontier’ Elm

Height: 25′

Spread: 15′

Fall Color: Purple-red

Other Notes: The U.S. National Arboretum presents ‘Frontier’, an elm tree of moderate stature. This hybrid combines a high level of tolerance to Dutch elm disease, and a lovely red-purple autumn coloration. It is perfect for use in smaller landscapes, along city streets, and under power lines. ‘Frontier’ blazes a trail for elms in the urban landscape. Zone 5.

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Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

(aka Maidenhair Tree)
‘Autumn Gold’ Ginkgo

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Height: 40′-50′

Spread: 25′-30′

Flowers: Green (inconspicuous)

Fall Color: Bright yellow

Other Notes: Fan shaped leaves. A male selection (won’t produce fruit) of ginkgo with a symmetrical conical form, turning broader with age. A nice yellow fall color. Prefers moist, sandy, well drained soil but will tolerate clay.

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Golden Raintree (Koelreuteria paniculata)

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Height: 20′-30′

Spread: 15′-20′

Flowers: Large sprays of yellow flowers in mid-summer followed by Chinese lantern-like pods.

Fall Color: Yellow

Other Notes: Native to China and Japan, this small tree grows well in a wide range of soils, and is tolerant of heat, drought, wind, alkalinity, and air pollution. The bright yellow flowers are borne in large 12-15″ panicles in July, followed by greenish fruit pods throughout the summer.

Seed Pods Photo Courtesy J Frank Schmidt

Hawthorn (Crataegus)

Crimson Cloud Hawthorn

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Height: 15′-20′

Spread: 12′-20′

Flowers: In Spring, unusual red blooms with a bright white center.

Fall Color: Red clusters of berries. No noticeable leaf color.

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Other Notes: This thornless tree bears exceptionally large, single bright red flowers with a star-shaped white area in the center of each bloom. Resistant to leaf spot diseases, it provides a second colorful display in fall when covered with glossy red fruit which persists into winter. Small ornamental tree. Thornless.

Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn ‘Crusader’

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Height: 15′

Spread: 10′-15′

Flowers: Creamy white in late Spring.

Fall Color: Smothered in bright red showy berries. Bright yellow-orange leaf color.

Other Notes: A smaller, more compact type of thornless hawthorn. Glossy green leaves. Horizontal growth habit. Bark exfoliates in thin strips. Interesting green berries in summer give the tree a two-tone effect.

Washington Hawthorn

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Height: 25′-30′

Spread: 25′-30′

Flowers: Creamy white in late Spring

Fall Color: Red berries and yellow/orange/maroon leaves

Other: Birds love the bright red berries on this tree that persist into winter.

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Lilac Tree (Syringa) / Japanese Lilac Tree

‘Ivory Silk’ Lilac Tree

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Height: 20′-25′

Spread: 15′-20′

Flowers: Showy, creamy white ‘lilac’ shaped flowers in early summer followed by tan fruit.

Fall Color: Not showy—gold tones.

Other Notes: Related to shrub form of lilacs. Dark cherry brown bark. Rounded vase-shape with age.

Locust (Robinia)

‘Twisty Baby’ Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)

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Height: 15′-20′

Spread: 15′-20′

Flowers: Uniquely shaped white flowers form in clusters

Fall Color: Yellow

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Other Notes: This is a dwarf, contorted tree of remarkable appearance. Branches twist and turn at every node; even the foliage twists. Its irregular, artistic form is as interesting in winter as in summer.

Maple (Acer)

Box Elder Maple ‘Sensation’ (Acer negundo)

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Height: 30′

Spread: 25′

Fall Color: Red

Other Notes: Rounded shape. Seedless variety. Sensation is a male box elder clone that features slower, more controlled growth, improved branch structure, and an outstanding display of brilliant red autumn foliage.

Columnar Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

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Height: 35′

Spread: 15′-20′

Fall Color: Yellow

Other Notes: Even though this tree can get quite tall, it offers a narrow mature spread…making it a good candidate for a relatively smaller space. True to its name, this cultivar produces a column of green foliage. It develops stout branches which grow stiffly upward, almost parallel to the main stem, which gives it a bold appearance in winter.

Norway Maple ‘Crimson Sunset’ (Acer truncatum x Acer platanoides)

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Height: 35′

Spread: 25′

Fall Color: Reddish bronze

Other Notes: Upright oval shape. Deep maroon leaves in season lighten to reddish bronze in Fall. Flourishes in the summer heat. Zone 4.

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Flame/Amur Maple (Acer ginnala)

Height: 15′-20′

Spread: 20′-25′

Fall Color: Ranges from orange-yellow to red

Other Notes: A graceful irregular shape with slender branches. Rounded shape. Extremely hardy and drought tolerant. Medium green leaves in season are adorned with decorative samaras in summer. Leaves turn bright shades in fall. We offer the tree form, but you will also see this tree grown around Colorado Springs as a multi-stem large shrub.

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‘Ruby Slippers’ Flame/Amur Maple (Acer ginnala)

Height: 20′

Spread: 20′

Fall Color: Bright Red

Other Notes: Upright spreading to rounded shape (branches low to the ground) Medium green leaves in season are adorned with decorative samaras in summer. Leaves turn bright shades in fall. This named variety offers more uniformity. Selected for a straight trunk and dense canopy.

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Tatarian Maple ‘Rugged Charm’ (Acer tataricum)

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Height: 25′

Spread: 15′

Flowers: Small clusters of fuzzy white flowers followed by bright red tipped samaras.

Fall Color: Yellow to Orange-Red traditional maple color.

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Other Notes: Compact and oval in form, the shapely canopy of this refined selection is a charming improvement over the hardy and rugged species! Bright red seed wings float in bright contrast against summer’s green leaves. Come autumn, the boldly textured foliage shows off a rich mix of yellow, orange, and bright red.

Mountain Ash, Oakleaf type

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Height: 30′

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Spread: 20′

Flowers: Clusters of small white flowers.

Fall: Showy orange-red fruit that persists into winter. Leaves turn rust colored.

Other Notes: This tree is grown from seed originally collected from Cheyenne Horticultural Field Station, Wyoming. A hybrid derived from European Mountain ash and Swedish Mountain ash, it is uniform with leaves lobed like English oak, and has white flowers followed by orange-red fruit.

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Mulberry (Morus)

Weeping Mulberry

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Height: 15′

Spread: 15′

Flower: Inconspicuous greenish-white in late spring.

Fall Color: Yellow

Other Notes: Attractive weeping form with slender cascading branches. Fruitless type. Needs staking when young.

Oak (Quercus)

Crimson Spire Oak

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Height: 45′

Spread: 15′

Flower: n/a

Fall Color: Traditional red color

Other Notes: Columnar form is a perfect fit for narrow or confined spaces. Planted alone, in groves, or in rows, it’s the perfect vertical design element. This fast growing, cold hardy, drought tolerant and disease resistant tree adapts to varied soils and tough urban growing conditions. Rich, dark green leaves stay fresh and bright through the heat of summer, turning rusty red to bright red in mid to late autumn.

Photo Courtesy J Frank Schmidt Photo Courtesy J Frank Schmidt

Urban Pinnacle Oak

Height: 55′

Spread: 25′

Flower: Inconspicuous greenish-white in late spring.

Fall Color: n/a

Other Notes: Narrow and upright with a strong central leader, this cultivar also features attractive glossy foliage and resistance to both mildew and anthracnose. About 1/2” in diameter, the acorns are extremely small for a bur oak, making it a more suitable tree for landscape and street tree use. Zone 3.

Pear, Ornamental (Pyrus)

Chanticleer

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Height: 25′-30′

Spread: 15′

Flowers: Clusters of creamy-white flowers in early Spring before leaves emerge

Fall color: Red/Purple tones.

Other Notes: This is one of the first trees to bloom in Spring and one of the last ones to drop its leaves in Fall. A very nice ornamental that fits in a small space due to its pyramidal, upright shape.

Fall Color Photo Courtesy J Frank Schmidt

Plum, Flowering –Ornamental Plum (Prunus)

Cistena Plum ‘Big Cis’ (Prunus x cistena)

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Height: 14′

Spread: 12′

Flowers: Fragrant single pink blossoms bloom in Spring before the foliage emerges.

Fall Color: Glossy Purple-red leaves all season.

Other Notes: A sport of Cistena, Big Cis® Plum grows quickly to a heavy-trunked, sturdy tree that is intermediate in size between Cistena and Newport. Cistena-like flowers are followed by dark purple foliage that keeps its fresh, clean appearance later in the season.

Newport Plum (Prunus cerasifera)

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Height: 15′-20′

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Spread: 15′-20′

Flowers: Fragrant pink blossoms in spring followed by small purple fruit.

Fall Color: Purple-red leaves.

Other Notes: Deep purple-red leaves all season. Rounded form.

Photo Courtesy J Frank Schmidt

Newport Plum ‘Thundercloud’ (Prunus cerasifera)

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Height: 15′-20′

Spread: 15′-20′

Flowers: Fragrant single pink blossoms bloom in Spring before the foliage emerges.

Fall Color: Glossy Purple-red leaves all season.

Photo Courtesy J Frank Schmidt

Other Notes: Seldom bears fruit. Zone 5

Redbud (Cercis)

Redbud, Eastern

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Height: 25′

Spread: 30”

Flowers: Lavender pink pea-like flowers in Spring emerge before the leaves

Fall Color: Yellow hues

Other Notes: Heart-shaped leaves emerge after the flowers. Zone 5. Rounded shape at maturity.

Serviceberry a.k.a Saskatoon or Juneberry (Amelanchier grandiflora)

Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry

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Height: 20-25′

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Spread: 18′-20′

Flowers: Profuse white flowers in spring.

Fall Color: Yellow, Orange, Red leaves persist with purple/black berries.

Other Notes: You may not think of this as a typical fruit tree. It bears edible fruit in June that tastes similar to a blueberry. (sometimes called a Juneberry) Great fresh, in jams/jellies & pies. An ornamental tree and also a favorite of birds.

Photo Courtesy J Frank Schmidt

Spring Flurry

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Height: 28′

Spread: 20′

Flowers: Clusters of white flowers in spring.

Fall Color: Orange-red leaves

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Other Notes: A tree form serviceberry with a strong central leader. As with other serviceberries, it produces edible 3/8″ blue fruit in summer. An ornamental tree that gives flowers in Spring and a good show of color in the Fall. Upright oval shape.

Photo Courtesy J Frank Schmidt

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