The taxonomic history of Prunus is long and complicated, in part due to the economic value of its fruit crops and also the ease with which some species hybridize. Here, Prunus is circumscribed in its broad sense based on the argument that when viewed on a worldwide scale, the morphologic discontinuities among the segregate genera diminish and they overlap with one another. Included here are species that have at times been placed in the genera Amygdalus, Armeniaca, Cerasus, Laurocerasus, Padus, and Persica.
At the species level, Prunus has been the object of the usual combining and splitting common among taxonomists with different philosophies and opinions. In particular, over-reliance on the indument of various vegetative and floral parts has led to the naming of numerous species and infraspecific taxa. Similarly, too much has been made of fruit colour and palatability in naming taxa of Prunus. It is very likely that, as molecular and genetic data are analyzed and, more importantly, correlated with morphological data, circumscriptions will be redrawn and the number of Prunus species will be reduced[
Prunus acuminata Hook.f.
Prunus gravesii Small
Common Name: Beach Plum
Prunus maritima is an unarmed, deciduous shrub usually growing 100 - 250cm tall and often wider than it is tall. The plant suckers to form thickets[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food. Improved cultivars are grown commercially as a fruit crop, and the plant is also grown as an ornamental. With its suckering habit, the plant can be grown in soil stabilization projects.
Prunus maritima has a restricted range and its habitat is threatened by the effects of tourism, however, it is also reported to be present in large numbers in managed areas. The population trend is unknown, and there is currently insufficient information available to evaluate this species. The plant is classified as 'Data Deficient' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(2013)[
The plant (especially the seed and young shoots) contains cyanogenic glycosides, especially amygdalin and prunasin. When injested, these compounds break down in the digestive tract to release cyanide. Used in small quantities in both traditional and conventional medicine, this exceedingly poisonous compound has been shown to stimulate respiration, improve digestion, and promote a sense of well-being[
]. It is also claimed by some to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer - though this claim has been largely refuted.
In larger concentrations, however, cyanide can cause gasping, weakness, excitement, pupil dilation, spasms, convulsions, coma and respiratory failure leading to death[
The fruits and flowers of most members of this genus generally have low or very low concentrations of this toxin, though the seeds and young shoots can contain much higher levels.
The levels of toxin can be detected by the level of bitterness:- for example sweet tasting almond seeds are a major food crop and are often eaten in quantity, whilst bitter tasting almond seeds are used as a flavouring (in marzipan for example) but are not usually eaten on their own.
In general, it can be considered safe to eat any fruit or seed from species in this genus that either have a sweet flavour or are slightly bitter. Great caution should be taken, however, if the flavour is moderately to very bitter[
Eastern N. America - Maine to Pennsylvania and Virginia
Light gravelly or sandy soils near the coast[
]. Sand dunes, beaches, sandy fields, roadsides, coastal barrens; at elevations up to 30 metres[
|Other Uses Rating
|Cultivated, Ornamental, Wild
Requires a sunny position[
]. Thrives in a well-drained moisture-retentive loamy soil[, doing well on limestone11,
]. Grows in the wild on sandy and gravelly soils[
]. Prefers some lime in the soil but is likely to become chlorotic if too much lime is present[
]. Tolerates maritime exposure[
The beach plum is cultivated for its edible fruit in N. America, there are some named varieties[
]. The fruit is often sold in local markets[
] and the plant is of potential commercial importance[
]. The fruit seldom ripens when grown in the interior of America[
The plant is grown as an ornamental in gardens[
The cultivar 'Eastham' has large well-flavoured fruit and is a heavy cropper[
]. 'Hancock' is an early ripening form with sweet juicy fruit[
]. 'Squibnocket' is of high quality and is also a good sand binder[
Most members of this genus are shallow-rooted and will produce suckers if the roots are damaged[
Plants in this genus are notably susceptible to honey fungus[
Fruit - raw or cooked[
]. Very variable in quality[
], the best forms are juicy, sub-acid to sweet. The fruit can be eaten out of hand, used in pies, preserves etc or be dried for later use[
]. The red, yellow, dark blue, or purplish black, globose fruit is about 11 - 18mm in diameter and contains one large seed[
Seed - raw or cooked. Do not eat the seed if it is too bitter - see the notes above on toxicity.
Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, all members of the genus contain amygdalin and prunasin, substances which break down in water to form hydrocyanic acid (cyanide or prussic acid). In small amounts this exceedingly poisonous compound stimulates respiration, improves digestion and gives a sense of well-being[
Plants have extensive root systems and can be used for binding sand along the coast[
A green dye can be obtained from the leaves[
A dark grey to green dye can be obtained from the fruit[
The plant is used as a rootstock for the cultivated peach (Prunus persica)[
Seed - requires 2 - 3 months cold stratification and is best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe[
]. Sow stored seed in a cold frame as early in the year as possible[
]. Protect the seed from mice etc. The seed can be rather slow, sometimes taking 18 months to germinate[
]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. Grow them on in a greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year.
Cuttings of half-ripe wood with a heel, mid summer in a frame[
Softwood cuttings from strongly growing plants in spring to early summer in a frame[
Layering in spring.