Prunus pumila (Sand Cherry)
|Also known as:|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||sun; dry, sandy or rocky soil; prairie, savanna, dunes|
|Bloom season:||May - June|
|Plant height:||1 to 6 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Numerous flat to convex clusters from lateral buds along the branches, each cluster a 1 to 3-flowered umbel (stalks all arising from the same point) and emerging before the leaves in spring. Flowers are about ½ inch across with 5 white, round to egg-shaped petals with a single slender style and a spray of slender, white, yellow-tipped stamens in the center.
The 5 sepals are about 1/3 the length of the petals, lance-oblong, rounded at the tip, spreading, with several small glands along the edges near the tip. Inner and outer surfaces are smooth. Flower stalks are slender and hairless.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are simple and alternate, 1½ to 2½ inches long and up to 1 inch wide, the blade narrowly elliptic or widest near the tip (obovate) depending on the variety, with a pointed tip and tapering at the base to a ¼ to ½ inch stalk. The upper surface is dark green and somewhat shiny, the lower surface lighter and smooth. Edges are finely toothed except near the base. Twigs are red to reddish brown, shiny smooth developing a flaky, waxy cuticle. Branches are spreading to ascending from low, sprawling basal stems, the bark grayish brown, smooth becoming roughish with conspicuous horizontal pores (lenticels). Basal stems are about ¾ inch diameter.
There are two varieties of Sand Cherry in Minnesota, distinguished by leaf shape: var. besseyi with more elliptical leaves that are more equally tapered at both ends of the blade, and var. pumila with leaves distinctly widest near the tip and a longer, even taper to the stalk (oblanceolate). Var. besseyi is far more common but both are found in open dry soils along the prairie forest tension zone from the northwest to southeast corners of the state. Another similar species that is treated by some references as just another var. of P. pumila is Prunus susquehanae (also known as P. pumila var. cuneata or P. pumila var. susquehanae) that, like var. besseyi, has more elliptical leaves but broader and less sharply pointed, and also has persistent minute hairs on the twigs (magnification required to see). Its range is more northeastern with a preference for more acidic soils formed from igneous bedrocks, where P. pumila prefers neutral to slightly alkaline soils formed from sedimentary bedrocks. Note, however, that the separation of these species and varieties is hotly debated and the distinctions are not always so clear-cut, some references considering them all a single, variable species. Time will tell how these pan out. In the meantime, we follow the treatment in Welby Smith's “Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota”.
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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Sand Cherry
- Sand Cherry
- Sand Cherry habitat
- Sand Cherry with Birds-foot Violet
- large Sand Cherry shrub in late summer
- var. pumila leaves with fall color
Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Aitkin, Dakota, Douglas and Pope counties, and in North Dakota.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?