Nebraska trees are displaying some pretty colors this spring, and that includes the wild plum thickets you might see on rural roadsides.
The wild plum is a shrub, and is known to grow in thickets. The shrub is native to Nebraska. "They occurred naturally, and the native people used them. It was an important part of their diet," Luann Finke of Finke Gardens and Nursery said. "Settlers later discovered all of the great ways to use the plums, such as in jellies or syrups. When we were hit by the devastation of the drought of the 1930's, wild plum thickets were incorporated into shelter belts or windbreaks."
The shrub is not incorporated often into landscapes, as it has a habit of spreading. "If you have a slope where you need to stabilize it, then that is an alternative, as long as you accept the fact that it's not going to stay exactly where you planted it. It's going to spread out as a thicket," Finke said. The shrub is often not available in commercial nurseries. But there are ways to get the shrub. "Natural Resource Districts have programs that make seedlings available. Or ask a nurseryman a season ahead to order some seedlings," Finke said.
You can eat the plums, and you often would harvest the fruit in the late summer. They are similar to chokecherries, but not exactly alike. "They do share the characteristics of forming a thicket, and being absolutely terrific for early pollinating insects and for birds and wildlife," Finke said.
If you would like to know more about cooking with wild plants, you can pick up a book by Kay Young who was a naturalist and botanist at the Chet Ager Nature Center in Lincoln. The book is called 'Wild Seasons: Gathering and Cooking Wild Plants of the Great Plains.'