Growing plums is a very easy way to sneak into the world of fruit growing without a lot of effort and fanfare. It starts with the seed. From seed you can find out just what is going on within a selection outside the grafted and clonal restrictions put on by previous plant breeders. I view plant breeding as a sort of curse and blessing at the same time. We want something sweet and delicious yet we will do anything to manipulate the environment with sprays and cultivation to make that happen. Such is the case for the Japanese plums.
The tree featured in this article represents a one of five thousand chance to use a population free of black knot. This disease is very persuasive yet it also seems to improve the yields when it is present but not overwhelming the plant. It is weird to me. It was not pretty. That I know from direct experience. One of nearby customers who created a richly diverse walnut farm had several types of plums in his planting which were grafted red and yellow plums of unknown origin. He offered the seed and so began the quest to winnow out the disease prone plants as the seedlings grew at my farm. It turned out all red fruited plants were the worst and died within three years. The yellow selections were almost as bad and the great tilling began creating mulch were once plums stood. It was quite a waste and one I would not repeat. Keep in mind this was one cultivated plum with little ‘wildness’ to it and almost zero resistance to black knot and insect diseases. Think of it as a plant in a sort of purgatory existence of ‘why change’ when all my needs are being met by the farmer growing me. Because of this one plum in particular, I began a second grow out with better odds of actually fruiting plums. But I waited for twenty years before I did that as I was still doubtful that the generations ahead were safe. Today the doubts are gone.
Why this plum? All plums sold today are sweet. They are grown in California and shipped here to Michigan in a fantastic array of colors and types. Some are hybrids with apricots. They are available almost year round. It is this sweetness and juiciness that people search for and know in stone fruit. The goal was to find and create a population of this type of sweet plum while replicating the flavor and texture of the cultivated Japanese plums but as a wild form free of insects and diseases. Another advantage came to light was the vigor and tall height of the tree making for a broadly branched long lived tree with no graft union. There were a few hurdles. Those are now gone. Limited seed is available this year from this one tree.