Prunus pumila (Sand Cherry)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Rosaceae (Rose)
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):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: flat

[photo of flowers] 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.

[photo of sepals] 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: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves, var. besseyi] 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.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a shiny drupe, reddish purple maturing to nearly black, 1/3 to ½ inch in diameter with a single hard seed inside.


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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More photos

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?

Posted by: Michelle - Beltrami State Forest
on: 2016-08-03 08:43:11

I found an abundance of these while blueberry picking in the state forest.

Posted by: Phil - Along USHWY 10 near Frazee
on: 2018-03-08 08:24:26

There's a small patch of these growing between USHWY 10 and the BNSF RR tracks just SE of Frazee. Very striking when they are blooming in the spring.

Posted by: Laura Reeves - Southeastern Manitoba (MB Tall Grass Prairie Preserve)
on: 2022-01-19 17:09:00

I know you won't post this, but I thought you might be interested to know that in this area, sand cherries only grow in wet prairies and wet meadows. On average, they get to be around knee height. It took me a while to accept the ID, despite confirmation, but nothing else fit. It took a trip to a Minnesota sand prairie, just over the border, to see why they're called sand cherries. I was shocked to find chest-high plants, loaded with cherries, growing on a sand dune! Weird, eh?

Laura Reeves
former botanist for the Manitoba Tall Grass Prairie Preserve

Posted by: Karen MacLean - Has appeared in my horse pasture. South Interlake, MB
on: 2022-06-12 09:05:58

I live in Manitoba, not Minnesota but I saw Laura Reeves post earlier this year so thought I would try. I have never seen Sand Cherry in my pasture. I've been on my property since 1983, been through drought in the '80s, flood conditions in early/mid 2000s, back to drought conditions the past three years and now flood/saturated conditions this spring. Beautiful flowers. I can't find anywhere to tell me if any part of this plant is poisonous to horses. Do I need to dig it up? Thank you for your help. (As Regional Education Chair, I also help Manitoba Pony members learn about poisonous plants so any assistance would be appreciated.

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2022-06-12 11:41:14

Karen, Manitoba borders Minnesota so you are within the region Minnesota Wildflowers covers. Sorry but we don't have any information on species poisonous to pets or livestock.

Posted by: Jordan Wilson - Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge
on: 2023-07-04 21:50:30

This plant can be found in several places on the prairie around the Oak Savanna Learning Center.

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