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

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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.

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