Northwest Native Plant Spotlight – Indian Plum

Indian Plum, or Oso Berry (Oemleria cerasiformis, aka Osmaronia cerasiformis), is a northwest harbinger of spring, being one of our first native plants to bloom, and fully leaf out, starting late in winter.  This plant is currently in bloom now, along with our native willow trees.  This wonderful woodland inhabitant provides an early nectar source for mason bees and hummingbirds, and also later provides fruit which a number of bird species will dine on (but which are questionably palatable to humans).  Its growth habit and size makes it more along the lines of a large shrub than a small tree, since its tendency is to sucker at the base growing multiple stems, though it can be pruned into a single stem tree with work each year.  I prefer its shrubby habit (and less pruning) and it complements our natural areas well.

Oso Berry in Spring - Oemleria cerasiformis

I must say that this plant is not always extremely photogenic.  It’s hard to capture the full appeal of Indian Plum this time of year, when its white, dangling blooms hang and sway below the bright green foliage which both work to light up the bare forest floors in which they are often located.  Though their preference is for part shade, they are quite adaptable, growing well in full shade to full sun.  With at least a little shade they can handle dry soil conditions so they are a good choice for those areas beneath mature conifers where not much will grow.  These vigorous growers can also handle somewhat wet conditions in the winter and will easily tolerate clay, though they love a good woodsy, organic soil.

Being dioecious, there are male and female plants, and as such the males have better flower power and only the females will fruit.  Because of their flowery show the male plants are more commonly sold.  Disappointing if you’re wanting some fruit, as that can really draw in a lot of birds in the summer time.  I plan on finding a female this year and taking a cutting so I can start a new plant right next to the male in my yard.  Poor guy’s lonely…

Oso Berry flowers

Osmaronia cerasiformis

Unripened fruit of the Indian Plum, or Oso Berry. These will develop into a dark plum color, with a similar look to commercially-sold plums, though much smaller in size.

I only wish this plant had some noteworthy fall color.  The leaves usually do yellow a little before they drop (which happens earlier in the year than a lot of plants, since it’s one of the first to leaf out) but it’s not spectacular.  But that aside, Indian Plum is a very garden-worthy plant and a great choice for wildlife.

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