19 Types of Prunus Trees and Shrubs

  • 01 of 20

    Meet the Prunus Genus

    Summer fruit in bowl
    Verdina Anna/Moment/Getty Images

    Species of the Prunus genus can offer interesting foliage, beautiful flowers, and edible fruit in the home garden. These members of the Rosaceae family include many familiar grocery store staples: almonds, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, and plums. There are over 400 species in this genus.

    Prunus trees and shrubs usually have five petals and five sepals on each flower, which are often white. These flowers also have many stamens. Some varieties have been cultivated to be double flowers with many more petals.

    Since they have fruit surrounding a stone (also known as a pit), they are considered to be stone fruits. The botanical term for stone fruit is drupe.

    You will need two different varieties for successful pollination in many of the Prunus fruits. Check with your local extension office for recommendations for your area, as sometimes specific varieties are unable to pollinate each other.

    The fruits of Prunus can be classified according to how their pulp is formed around the stone. Freestone fruits have flesh that pulls away easily from the pit, making them easy to eat fresh. Clingstone fruits have pulp that is fastened more firmly to the pit and can't be pulled away without damage.

    These trees and shrubs can be dangerous to plant if you have livestock. The foliage of many species is toxic to cud chewers like goat and cattle.

    Birds love these fruit trees, which can be a double-edged sword. It's great if you want to attract some avian friends to your yard, but can be quite annoying if you're trying to raise a fruit crop.

    There are quite a few pests and diseases that attack the different Prunus species. However, it is still worth it to grow these beauties for the fruit alone. There are both chemical and organic ways of controlling these problems.

    Read on for info about 19 species of Prunus

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  • 02 of 20

    Almonds (Prunus dulcis)

    Almonds are related to roses and the stone fruits.
    Stepheye via Flickr
    • Latin Name: Prunus dulcis
    • Native to: Middle East and South Asia
    • USDA Zones:7 - 10
    • Height: 30' tall. There are dwarf and semi-dwarf cultivars.
    • Pollination: Requires cross-pollination as it is self-incompatible. Pick a variety known to pollinate your tree as some varieties are not able to pollinate each other.

    The almond resembles an immature peach on the tree. If you crack open the pit, you find the "nut" that we eat. This is actually a drupe-like the other Prunus species, not a true nut.

    Some varieties of almonds include:

    • 'Butte'
    • 'Carmel'
    • 'Hall's Hardy' (lives up to the name and can be planted as cold as Zone 5)
    • 'Mission'
    • 'Nonpareil'
    • 'Sonora'

    These nuts are both eaten fresh and used in cooking. Ground almonds or almond meal and sugar are used to make marzipan, which is used in desserts and candies. Ground almonds can also be used as almond butter, similar to peanut butter.

    Some consider the almond to be a natural aphrodisiac for women.

    Try one of these recipes for a romantic meal:

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  • 03 of 20

    Apricot (Prunus armeniaca)

    Clusters of apricots on the tree
    daveeza via Flickr
    • Latin Name: Prunus armeniaca
    • Native to: China, Japan, Korea, Kyrgyzstan
    • USDA Zones: 5 - 9
    • Height: Most apricot varieties will be 10-20' tall.
    • Pollination: Most varieties are able to pollinate themselves, so another variety is not necessary.

    Apricots are sweet little orange gems that do well in dry climates. In fact, almost all of the apricots commercially grown in the US come from California. Apricots do not do well in humid climates and can have problems in frosty conditions.

    Some varieties of apricots include:

    • 'Canadian White Blenheim'
    • 'Flavor Giant'
    • 'Flora Gold'
    • 'Nugget'
    • 'Pixie-Cot'
    • 'Wenatchee Moorpark'

    Popular apricot recipes include:

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  • 04 of 20

    Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

    Photo of sloes
    Alexandre Dulaunoy via Flickr
    • Latin Name: Prunus spinosa
    • Other Common Names: Sloe
    • Native to: Europe, northwest Africa and western Asia
    • USDA Zones: 5 - 9
    • Height: At its tallest, the blackthorn may be up to 16' tall.

    The blackthorn is a large shrub (sometimes small tree) that is covered in spines (hence the species name spinosa). The fruits are made into liquors, jams, pies, and pickles. Sloe gin (not a type of true gin) is made in Britain.

    Drink recipes with sloe include:

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  • 05 of 20

    Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)

    cherry laurel flowers
    briweldon via Flickr
    • Latin Name: Prunus laurocerasus
    • Other Common Names: English laurel
    • Native to: Southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia
    • USDA Zones: 6 - 9
    • Height: The cherry laurel can be up to 30' tall, though it is often pruned to stay at a shorter height.

    While the name and look of this shrub might suggest that the cherry laurel is related to the bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), they come from entirely different families.

    All parts of the cherry laurel except the fruit are poisonous. Do not plant these if you have cattle or sheep, as it is especially harmful to them and other ruminants. The fruit is more suitable for birds as they don't have much of a flavor to humans.

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  • 06 of 20

    Chinese Plum (Prunus mume)

    The Chinese plum is also known as the Japanese apricot
    Image by TANAKA Juuyoh via Flickr
    • Latin Name: Prunus mume
    • Other Common Names: Japanese apricot, ume plum, flowering apricot
    • Native to: China and Korea
    • USDA Zones: 6 - 9
    • Height: 10 - 20' tall

    This is the fruit that is pickled in Japanese cooking to create umeboshi. They are also pickled in Chinese cooking and are known as suanmeizi. The Chinese plum is also used for liquors, sauces, juices and medicinally.

    Another name for the loquat is Chinese plum, but that belong to the Eriobotrya genus.

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  • 07 of 20

    Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)

    Photo of the chokecherry
    Matt Lavin via Flickr
    • Latin Name: Prunus virginiana
    • Other Common Names: Virginia bird cherry, bitter-cherry
    • Native to: North America
    • USDA Zones: 2 - 7
    • Height: 20 - 30' tall

    The chokecherry is the state fruit of North Dakota. It can be used to make syrups, jams, and jellies once sugar is added to balance the tartness.

    The chokeberries (Aronia spp.) may sound like they are related to chokecherries based on the similar names and the fact that the common names are sometimes interchanged, but they are in different genera.

    Don't plant this if you have horses, cows, or goats as it is poisonous for them. It is also poisonous for the other ruminants like deer, moose, and bison.

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  • 08 of 20

    European Plum (Prunus domestica)

    European plum
    4028mdk09 via Creative Commons
    • Latin Name: Prunus domestica
    • Other Common Names: Damson, common plum, Damask plum, bullace
    • Native to: Western Asia
    • USDA Zones: 5 - 8
    • Height: Depending on the variety, the European plum will generally reach a height of 15-30' tall.
    • Pollination: Many varieties of the European plum do not need a different variety for successful pollination. They cannot pollinate the Japanese plums.

    The European plums is the usual source for prunes (dried plums) since many of the cultivars are freestone and processing the pits is simpler. This species is also smaller than the Japanese plum and matures later.

    Some varieties of European plums include:

    • 'Bavay's Green Gage'
    • 'Blue Damson'
    • 'Brompton'
    • 'Golden Transparent Gage'
    • 'Stanley

    Popular recipes with prunes include:

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  • 09 of 20

    Japanese Flowering Cherry (Prunus serrulata)

    Japanese flowering cherries
    robfromamersfoort via Flickr
    • Latin Name: Prunus serrulata
    • Other Common Names: Oriental cherry, hill cherry, east Asian cherry, Japanese cherry
    • Native to: China, Korea and Japan
    • USDA Zones: 5 - 8
    • Height: The Japanese flowering cherry will grow 15 - 40' tall depending on the variety chosen.

    The Japanese flowering cherry is called sakura in Japanese and is the National flower of Japan. These are some of the trees that are celebrated every March and April in Washington, DC's National Cherry Blossom Festival. It commemorates the gift in 1912 of 3000 trees to the United States from Japan.

    This species is often grafted onto the sweet cherry (Prunus avium. The flowers are white or pink and can be single or double. The tree will burst into bloom every spring and provide a spectacular show.

    Varieties include:

    • 'Amonogawa'
    • 'Kwanzan'
    • 'Shirofugen'
    • 'Ukon'
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  • 10 of 20

    Japanese Plum (Prunus salicina)

    • Latin Name: Prunus salicina
    • Other Common Names: Blood plum, Chinese plum
    • Native to: China
    • USDA Zones: 5 - 9
    • Height: The tree height depends on variety and may reach over 30' tall.
    • Pollination: Plant a second variety of Japanese plum for proper pollination. You cannot use a European plum for pollinating a Japanese plum.

    In the United States, most of the plums you find in the grocery store will be a variety of Japanese plum. This species of plum is larger and sweeter than the European plum. They also bloom and ripen faster, producing fruit with more flesh and juice.

    The loquat is also sometimes called a Japanese plum. While it is in the same family (Rosaceae), it is ​in an entirely different genus (Eriobotrya japonica).

    Some varieties of Japanese plums include:

    • 'Bubblegum'
    • 'Crimson Beauty'
    • 'Ozark Premier'
    • 'Santa Rosa'
    • 'Satsuma'

    Popular recipes that can make use of Japanese plums include:

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  • 11 of 20

    Nectarine (Prunus persica var. nectarina)

    Old Sarge via Flickr
    • Latin Name: Prunus persica var. nectarina. Some use nucipersica as the variety.
    • Native to: Likely Asia
    • USDA Zones: 5 - 9
    • Height: The exact height will change by variety, but the nectarine tree can be up to 20' tall.
    • Pollination: Nectarine tree varieties will not need a separate pollinator.

    Natural genetic mutations have brought many new & wondrous plants to the world of horticulture. One of them is the nectarine, which is a mutation of the peach. The result was a fruit that was hairless, smaller, redder in the skin, rounder and sweeter. Pure heaven!

    Each nectarine variety will feature either white or yellow pulp.

    Some varieties of nectarines include:

    • 'Arctic Rose' (white)
    • 'Fantasia' (yellow)
    • 'Goldmine' (white)
    • 'Independence' (yellow)
    • 'Red Gold' (yellow)
    • 'Summer Beaut' (yellow)

    Use your nectarines in one of these recipes:

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  • 12 of 20

    Paperbark Cherry (Prunus serrula)

    paperbark cherry trunks
    westher via Flickr
    • Latin Name: Prunus serrula
    • Other Common Names: Birch bark cherry, Tibetian cherry
    • Native to: Western China
    • USDA Zones: 5 - 8
    • Height: 20 - 30' tall

    The trunk of the paperbark cherry seems to be covered in plastic, but it's actually the bark itself that is a natural plastic. This species is sometimes used as the base for other Prunus, such as the Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yedoensis). You can use a side-stub graft to join the two trees together.

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  • 13 of 20

    Peach (Prunus persica)

    peaches on tree
    abbydonkrafts via Flickr
    • Latin Name: Prunus persica.
    • Native to: China
    • USDA Zones: 5 - 9
    • Height: There are dwarf, semi-dwarf and standard peach varieties that can be up to 35' tall.
    • Pollination: You will not need a different variety as most peach varieties are able to pollinate themselves.

    Peaches come in two different types: white flesh and yellow flesh. Most of the peaches sold in supermarkets are a freestone variety, as the clingstones are preferable for canning versus eating fresh. These fuzzy fruits are juicy and sweet, with the white varieties being especially so. The peach is the state fruit of Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.

    Unfortunately, there are a lot of pests and diseases that you might encounter if you plant peaches in your yard. Peach leaf curl is caused by the Taphrina deformans fungus and has the potential for serious damage. Other bacteria and fungal diseases may attack.

    Pests may include aphids, borers, Japanese beetles, scales, spider mites and tent caterpillars.

    Each peach variety will have a chilling hour requirement, which is the amount of cold weather they need for proper fruiting.

    Some varieties of peaches include:

    • 'Contender' (yellow freestone)
    • 'Crimson Rocket' (upright yellow freestone
    • 'EarliGlo' (yellow freestone)
    • 'Elberta' (yellow freestone)
    • 'Ernie's Choice' (yellow freestone)
    • 'Klondike White' (white semi-freestone)
    • 'Lady Nancy' (white freestone)
    • 'Rich Lady' (yellow clingstone)
    • 'Topaz' (yellow freestone)

    Some delicious peach recipes are:

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  • 14 of 20

    Prunus Crosses: Apriplum, Aprium, Nectaplum, Nectarcot, Peacotum, Plumcot, Pluot

    Flavor Grenade pluot
    dailylifeofmojo via Flickr

    Many plants within the Prunus genus are able to cross with each other, resulting in new fruits. The cross of an apricot and a plum may be known as either apriplum, or plumcot, for example.

    Zaiger's Genetics has created several of these crosses and has secured trademarked names for them. These new cultivars are the results of several generations of crossing. They include:

    • Apriums are the cross of apricot + plum and resemble apricots more than plums.
    • Pluots are the same cross with the plum characteristics being more prominent. Pluots are marketed in stores with clever names like "Dinosaur Eggs".
    • Nectaplums are the result of crossing nectarines and plums.
    • Nectarcots are produced when nectarines and apricots are the parents.
    • Peacotums occur after peaches, apricots, and plums are bred together.
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  • 15 of 20

    Purple Leaf Sand Cherry (Prunus x cistena)

    purple leaf sand cherry
    lcm1863 via Flickr
    • Latin Name: Prunus x cistena
    • Other Common Names: Purpleleaf sandcherry, purple leaf sandcherry, purpleleaf sand cherry
    • Native to: This is a cross of two plants. The sandcherry is from the northeastern United States and the purple leaf plum is from Western Asia and Europe
    • USDA Zones: 2 - 8
    • Height: 7 - 10' tall

    The purple leaf sand cherry is a cross between the purple leaf plum (Prunus cerasifera 'Atropurpurea') and the sandcherry (Prunus pumila)

    This is a great option for gardeners who want to bring birds to their yard. You may be able to see cardinals and robins, for example. It's also a favorite of the Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) unfortunately.

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  • 16 of 20

    Purple Leaf Plum (Prunus cerasifera)

    purple leaf plum
    Dendroica cerulea via Flickr
    • Latin Name:
    • Other Common Names: Myrobalan plum, cherry plum, purpleleaf plum
    • Native to: Europe and western Asia
    • USDA Zones: 4 - 9
    • Height: 15-25' tall

    One of the most popular trees with purple leaves is the purple leaf plum. The little fruits can be made into jams or eaten fresh, though the pit is large in proportion to the amount of pulp.

    Plan on this tree living for about 20 years, as it is susceptible to several pests and diseases.

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  • 17 of 20

    Sour Cherry (Prunus cerasus)

    sour cherries on tree
    thy via Flickr
    • Latin Name: Prunus cerasus
    • Other Common Names: Pie cherry, tart cherry
    • Native to: Europe and southwest Asia
    • USDA Zones: 4 - 7
    • Height: Sour cherries can grow up to 50' tall, but they are usually pruned and kept at 12 - 15' tall.
    • Pollination: Sour cherries are self-fertile and a second variety is not necessary.

    Sour cherries are too tart to eat out of hand for many people, so they are commonly used in cooking with sweetening. The most popular variety planted in the United States is the 'Montmorency'.

    Make sure you choose a location that does not have wet soil to avoid diseases and other problems.

    Some varieties of sour cherry include:

    • 'Balaton'
    • 'Danube'
    • 'Early Richmond'
    • 'English Morello'
    • 'Jubileum'
    • 'Meteor'
    • 'Montmorency'
    • 'Northstar'
    • 'Schattenmorelle'

    These recipes feature sour cherries:

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  • 18 of 20

    Sweet Cherry (Prunus avium)

    Rainier cherries on plate
    kimberlykv via Flickr
    • Latin Name: Prunus avium
    • Other Common Names: Wild cherry, bird cherry, gean, Mazzard cherry
    • Native to: Europe, Turkey, western Asia, northwest Africa
    • USDA Zones: Depends on the variety, from 3 - 9
    • Height: Sweet cherries grow up to 35' tall. They are usually pruned to be 12 - 15' tall in the landscape. There are dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties available for sale.
    • Pollination: You will need a different cherry variety for successful pollination. Check with your extension office for suggested matches as not all will pollinate your variety.

    The sweet cherry is what you will usually find for sale in the North American grocery stores. The most common variety there is the 'Bing', though others like 'Rainier' will make an appearance too. These are much sweeter than the sour cherry and can be eaten fresh as well as being used in recipes.

    Plant in a location with soil that is well-draining, as soil that is too moist will cause problems like rots and cankers.

    You will need to use nets, reflective strips, owl statues or other methods of deterring birds, as they will gobble up your sweet cherries before you get a chance to harvest them.

    Some varieties of sweet cherries include:

    • 'Bing'
    • 'Hudson'
    • 'Lambert'
    • 'Lapins'
    • 'Rainier'
    • 'Regina'
    • 'Ulster'

    Whet your appetite for cherries by preparing these recipes:

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  • 19 of 20

    Weeping Higan Cherry (Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula')

    weeping Higan cherry
    David Paul Ohmer via Flickr
    • Latin Name: Prunus subhirtella 'Pendula' and 'Pendula Rubra'
    • Other Common Names: Weeping cherry tree, spring cherry, rosebud cherry
    • Native to: Japan
    • USDA Zones: 5 - 8
    • Height: 20 - 40' tall

    The weeping Higan cherry is a favorite weeping tree due to its showy floral displays each spring. This tree is created by grafting this variety onto other rootstocks when it reaches approximately six feet tall. This gives it a stronger base and allows it to live for a long time.

    The flowers of the different weeping Higan cherry varieties come in shades of white or pink. There are double flowering varieties available, like 'Pendula Plena Rosea'.

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  • 20 of 20

    Wild Cherry (Prunus serotina)

    Wild Cherry tree
    Rasbak via Creative Commons
    • Latin Name: Prunus serotina
    • Other Common Names: Black cherry, rum cherry, mountain wild cherry, wild black cherry
    • Native to: North America
    • USDA Zones: 4 - 9
    • Height: 40 - 90' tall

    The wild cherry is a close relative of chokecherries. It must be planted in an area with full sun as it will die in shady areas. This North American tree is valued for its lumber, which is often used in cabinetry.

    This is a favorite treat of eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum), which will munch away on the leaves. It's usually not a serious problem and the tree will not be permanently damaged.

    The fruits are used in wines, in jellies, and as a flavoring for brandy, ice creams, and sodas. You'll have to pick them right when they ripen or else birds will eat all of them for you.

    Livestock like goats and cattle can be poisoned by the wild cherry, so don't plant them near these animals.