Around the Island

Island Tree of the Month — Beach Plum

Locations: Beach plum naturally occurs as a low, spreading shrub on dunes and beaches. Look for them at Shell Beach. It also makes a handsome home landscape plant in fast-draining soil and full sun. In my yard, three beach plums planted in 2002 have become small, multi-branched trees currently bedecked with white blossoms that attract a variety of pollinators.

Tree stats: Beach plum is native to northeast coastal regions from Maine to Maryland. It’s often seen growing with beach grass, bayberry, groundsel bush, and seaside goldenrod.

Because of its deep roots and suckering habit, beach plum can form extensive thickets, making it an excellent dune stabilizer. The plums, which range from dark red to purple or, rarely, yellow, are prized by birds, mammals, and us. Plum Island was named for the plant.

Creature comfort food: Over the years I’ve observed different animals lured by my plums. Chipmunks start on the unripe fruit as if waiting for them to ripen would mean potentially losing out to competitors. Catbirds peck at the plums and leave the rest to fall to the ground.

One summer night, as I stargazed in a hammock, I heard the excited chattering of a raccoon family in the heavily laden trees. The next morning I discovered they had eaten most of the plums. Oh, the tummy aches they must have had! 

Beach plum yum: Like the raccoons, some people enjoy the plums raw. I find them astringent and not particularly tasty. But that’s why we invented jam. Several years ago, I had a bumper crop that was admired by Kirsten Lewis, a neighbor down the street. She collected a large bowl of plums and returned several days later with a jar of superb jam.

Another admirer, Keith Lustofin, wanted the fruit to make a liqueur. The recipe was simple. Gather a quart of plums, mix them in a bottle with 3 cups of either vodka or gin, and gently turn the bottle once a week until Christmas. Add sugar to taste.

The result was a potent, purple delight. The jam was wonderful, but the liqueur was heaven.

Friends of Trees branches out: There is now has a website that features maps of where we’ve planted trees, book suggestions and a Tree of the Month archive. Check it out at sifriendsoftrees.org

The closer the better.