Rosaceae (Rose family) Prunus

Prunus cerasifera cherry plum

Prunus cerasifera ‘Thundercloud’ next to Memorial Church; new purple leaves push out among the blossoms at the start of Lent. Sairus Patel, 2 Mar 2022
Double pink flowers of Prunus × blireiana, Pine Hill Road. Sairus Patel, 20 Feb 2021

Locate these trees in early spring (February–March) when the various named varieties burst into very attractive blossoms in tones of pink and white. Leaves soon flush out, some green, some copper-colored, only the fallen petals reminding us of the brief show. Later the small plums ripen, often in very heavy crops, and they are good to eat. Numerous small seedlings spring up if the soil is moist. Variety ‘Atropurpurea’ has coppery leaves and red plums and reproduces spontaneously.

Emma T. Capps has written and illustrated an account of gathering cherry plum fruit, Jam Days, which also includes a recipe for cherry plum jam.

P. cerasus, the sour cherry, was brought back to Italy by Roman General Lucullus after fighting Mithradates. He also brought back the name Cerasus, the latinized form of the Greek town name Kerasos, in Pontus (Eastern Black Sea). P. laurocerasus, the cherry laurel, has shiny leaves that are used for giving desserts a bitter-almond flavor.

Prunus cerasifera var. pissardii leaves, fruit. From An Illustrated Manual of Pacific Coast Trees, Howard E. McMinn & Evelyn Maino
Prunus × blireiana in bloom behind Memorial Church. John Rawlings, 5 Feb 2004

So many varieties of flowering Prunus exist that listing under species is hardly useful. The middle of February is the time to survey the local scene. Pink-blossomed purple leaf plums can be seen at Slavianskii Dom (650 Mayfield Avenue) and the whole length of Mayfield Avenue fronting Florence Moore Hall.

Old-fashioned P. × blireiana is a cross between P. cerasifera ‘Pissardii’ and the ‘Alphandii’ cultivar of the Japanese plum, P. mume. It has pink flowers packed with petals and characteristic warty trunks, and is often the first of the Prunus to bloom. See seven at 820 and 828 Pine Hill Road, down from a row of a dozen. Two next to a P. cerasifera ‘Thundercloud’ on the east side of Memorial Church were removed in 2020; a declining specimen still remains on the west side of the church. Three in the north courtyard of Beckman Center are campus’s largest.

Name derivation: Prunus – Latin name for the plum tree; cerasifera – cherry-bearing; blireana – of Bléré, France.

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. John Rawlings added the note on Jam Days ca. 2011. Notes on P. × blireiana & ‘Thundercloud’ location added; ‘Atropurpurea’ locations on Santa Teresa Street at Lomita Drive removed; all locations up to date (SP, Mar 2022). Beckman Center locations added (SP, Feb 2023).