This is a great time of year for grazing while out on hikes. Currently I enjoy snacking on ripe wild grapes, pin cherries and the juicy, ripe wild plum.

Wild plum, also called American plum, is a small, fast-growing, colony-forming native tree. It is common throughout southern and western Minnesota and central hardwood areas, and is found along fence rows and forest edges, in open fields and along roadsides. This year there is a good crop of red and yellow; the fruit is an inch in diameter, with a single hard seed inside. The plums can be eaten raw, cooked as sauce, or made into a jam, jelly or wine. The plums were used extensively by Indians, who often dried them for winter by cutting them open, removing the center stones and spreading them out in the sun.

Wild plum is a popular residential landscape tree. In spring, it is covered with masses of pure white flowers visited by many pollinators, followed by bright green foliage and abundant, showy fruit. A few birds and other animals eat the fruit, and whitetail deer feed on its twigs and leaves. Thickets of plum trees often provide valuable protective cover for animals. Farmers use wild plum for windbreaks. Its high density effectively reduces the wind velocity near the ground. Wild plum is also used in highway and riverside plantings. Development of suckers from the root system makes it effective in stabilizing gully and stream banks. It tolerates moderate levels of spring flooding.

Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.