Plum - Klamath
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Klamath Plum.
Prunus subcordata
Plum - Klamath

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A clingstone, species plum, the only native plum to the west coast of the US. Plums of New York says the following about Klamath Plum:

Prunus subcordata, the Pacific or Western plum, is an inhabitant of the region east of the Coast Range from southern Oregon to central California. It is so rarely found on the seacoast as to have escaped the attention of the early botanists and remained unknown until the middle of the Nineteenth Century, when Hartweg, working in the interior of California, brought the plant to notice. This wild plum is not common except in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in northern California and southern Oregon, where it often forms thickets of small trees along streams, thriving in fresh, fertile, sandy soils, in canons, on hillsides or in the forests of yellow pine which are found in this region. Hammond writes of it growing here as usually a small tree but often seen as a shrub from four to five feet high. Of the frequency of the occurrence he says: " It often sets the whole countryside ablaze in the autumn, with the abundance of its scarlet and crimson colors, mingled, of course, with red and yellow, and garnished with a sprinkling of green." The tree and the fruit vary greatly according to the locality.

This Subcordata plum is one of the standard food products of the aborigines in the region in which it grows, being eaten either raw or cooked; and it is sometimes dried in considerable quantities at the harvesting places and carried considerable distances to the Indian villages.' The trappers, the first men to enter the habitat of this plum, followed by the gold-seekers and ranchers, all knew and esteemed the fruit. The early settlers regarded it as the most useful of all the wild fruits of the Coast and attempts were made at an early date to domesticate it. Of these Wickson says:'

"In 1856 there was, on the Middle Yuba River, not far from Forest
City, in Sierra County, a wayside establishment known as 'Plum Valley
Ranch,' so-called from the great quantity of wild plums growing on and
about the place. The plum by cultivation gave a more vigorous growth
and larger fruit. Transplanted from the mountains into the valley they
are found to ripen earlier. Transplanted from the mountains to a farm
near the coast, in Del Norte County, they did not thrive. One variety,
moved from the hills near Petaluma in 1858, was grown as an orchard
tree for fifteen years, and improved both in growth and quality of fruit
by cultivation. Recently excellent results have been reported
from the domestication of the native plum in Nevada County, and fruit
shown at the State Fair of 1888 gave assurance that by cultivation and
by selecting seedlings valuable varieties can be obtained. It is stated that
in Sierra County the wild plum is the only plum which finds a market at
good prices, and that cultivated gages, blue and egg plums scarcely pay
for gathering. The wild plum makes delicious preserves."

In its typical form Prunus subcordata is a shrub and is often only a low bush but under the most favorable conditions it attains the dimension and shape of a small tree. In its roundish, roughish leaves it so closely resembles the Old World types of plums that it becomes the nearest approach to them to be found among our American species. But in the globular, red or purple subacid fruit it betrays its affinity to the American plums, as it does also in the fiat, sometimes turgid, smooth stone to which the flesh tenaciously clings. The flowers are white, fading to rose and borne abundantly, making the plant an attractive ornamental in blooming time as it is also in the autumn when the foliage turns to brilliant red, scarlet or crimson with touches of yellow. The fruit is sometimes so poor in quality as to be inedible but on the other hand is sometimes quite equal to some of the cultivated plums, especially in its botanical variety, Kelloggii.

That the fruit is capable of improvement by the selection of seedling varieties and useful in hybridizing with other species can hardly be doubted. Luther Burbank, under date of December 6, 1909, writes in this regard as follows:

"The Prunus subcordata, as it grows wild, bears very heavily even
on bushes two and three feet in height, bending the bushes flat on the
ground when the fruit is ripe. This is a very beautiful sight. The wild
ones, although almost invariably bright red and spherical, are sometimes,
though rarely found, yellow. When the seed of the yellow fruit is planted
a certain portion of red ones are produced, but all, practically, of the same
size and quality as the original. The trees of Subcordata in the wild state
are greatly variable in growth, generally much more so than in the fruit.
The fruit, however, varies much in quality, but it is promiscuously gathered
by those living in the vicinity of the plum grounds and considered most
excellent for cooking. I commenced working on this species about twentytwo
years ago and have not carried it on as extensively as with the Maritima,
as I found it subject to plum-pockets, but by very careful selection
I have produced most magnificent plums, oval in form or round, sweet
as honey or sweet as the French Prune, greatly enlarged in size, tree
improved in growth and enormously productive, the different varieties ripening
through a long season. Most of these are light and dark red. Some of
them, when cooked, are far superior to cranberries, having the exact delicious
flavor so much liked in this fruit, and the same color.

"From the crosses of Subcordata with the Americana, Nigra, Triflora
and other species, some of the most beautiful and highest flavored fruits
which I have even seen have been produced. These vary in color from
almost pure white to light yellow, transparent flesh color, pink, light crimson,
scarlet, dark crimson and purple ; in form round, egg-shaped or elongated-oval;
trees both upright and weeping, enormously productive, and
in one or two cases the fruit, by hundreds of experts, has been pronounced
the best plum in flavor of any in existence. Most of these selections are
extremely productive."

Wickson reports that the roots of Subcordata have been used more or less as stocks for other plums but show no marked advantages over the species commonly used for this purpose. Most of those who have experimented with it condemn it as a stock because it dwarfs the scion and suckers badly.

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