If you want a striking specimen tree, or a screen of vibrant color in your garden, the Thundercloud Purple Leaf Plum is the tree you are looking for. With a profusion of pale-pink blossoms as winter ends, and reliable coppery-red leaves that hold their color all summer long, however hot it gets, and right into fall, this tree is fast-growing and easily managed. It looks great in any garden, and it’s big enough to make a color statement, but small enough to fit into smaller spaces too, like an urban garden.
The Thundercloud Purple Leaf Plum grows quickly into a small tree, 15 to 25 feet tall in time, and spreading 15 to 20 feet wide. It has an attractive upright form, often with several major branches and dark brown bark. But it is the foliage which is the real feature of this terrific tree. The leaves are 2 ½ inches long, oval in shape, with tiny soft teeth along the edge. They emerge in spring, as the flowers begin to fade, and at that time they are ruby red, making a spectacular and brilliant effect. As they mature, and summer comes along, they darken to a rich coppery purple-red. Unlike other red-leaf trees – for example most crab apples – this color does not fade with the heat of summer, but instead stays strong right into fall. For a bold color effect in your garden, this tree cannot be beaten.
As if this was not enough, in late winter to early spring your Thundercloud Purple Leaf Plum becomes a beacon of floral beauty, when the branches are smothered in large single flowers of a delicate shell-pink color. These are fragrant and attract the early bees. The fragile beauty of this tree in flower will catch your heart, and in warmer states flowers can emerge even in mid-winter, during warm spells.
The flowers are followed by a crop of 1-inch edible plums, also colored purple-red. These are not like the large edible plums, but they can be used to make delicious jams and chutneys. Don’t plant this tree over a paved surface, as the falling plums can stain stonework and brick, as well as being a slipping hazard. On a lawn or in a garden bed they will quickly be removed by squirrels and birds, who love them. Some years you may see very few fruits, depending on weather conditions during flowering.
Growing Thundercloud Purple Leaf Plum Trees
Use the Thundercloud Purple Leaf Plum as a specimen tree in a lawn. Plant a group in the corner of your garden. A row makes a beautiful screen in all seasons, and you can vary the distance between the plants to create different effects. Spaced at around 25 feet apart will give you an elegant avenue to line a driveway, or to mark your property boundary. Closer spacing will create a screen, and you can plant as close as 8 feet apart for a solid barrier. This tree looks beautiful in a well-arranged garden, where it can be trimmed it keep it neat. In a more natural garden, let it grow more naturally, pruning to open out the structure of the branches, giving a mature and ‘wild’ look.
Planting and Initial Care
Plant your Thundercloud Purple Leaf Plum in full sun for maximum flowering and the most intense leaf color. In shade the leaves will tend to turn more greenish after their initial spring colors, and flowering will be much less prolific. It will grow across almost all the country, from cool zone 5 to warm zone 9. When it comes to soil, your tree is not very particular at all, and it will grow well in most soils, as long as they drain well and are not constantly wet.
Watering regularly during the first couple of years will encourage strong growth and deep rooting. After that your tree will be unaffected by normal periods of summer dryness. In spring use a mulch of rich organic material, or a fertilizer for flowering trees, to keep the growth of your tree vigorous and healthy.
You can let the Thundercloud Purple Leaf Plum grow without pruning, or you can prune as often as once a year to encourage a dense, bushy crown. Trees that are pruned hard and often will have bold foliage with large leaves, but flowering will be reduced, so strike a balance, and prune a little each year or second year, to encourage both flowers and good foliage. To prevent infection from disease, prune in spring or early summer only. Just after flowering is best. Remove any weak or dying branches, and trim back younger growth by about one-third, cutting just above an outward-facing bud.
History and Origins of the Thundercloud Purple Leaf Plum Tree
The Thundercloud Purple Leaf Plum is a selected variety of the cherry plum, or myrobalan (Prunus cerasifera). This tree does not exist in the wild, but it is very similar to a truly-wild tree called Prunus divaricata. That tree grows wild throughout Central Asia, from the Caucus Mountains to Iran and further east. Monsieur Pissard was the French head-gardener of the Shah of Iran, and he found a tree of cherry plum which had pink flowers, rather than the white ones of wild trees, and instead of normal green leaves,his tree had deep-red ones.
In 1880 he sent this new plant to France, and it quickly became popular and spread across Europe and then to North America. His plant is today known as ‘Pissardii’. Gardeners and nurserymen created improved versions of this plant, and in 1937 a form was found at the Housewearts Nursery, in Woodbury, Oregon. It was named ‘Thundercloud’, for its dark color, and became the hugely popular plant you can now have in your own garden.
Skilled specialist growers take stem pieces from correctly identified trees, and they graft them to the roots of selected forms of the green-leaf cherry plum. This way you receive a healthy and vigorous tree, suitable for a wide range of soils. This ever-popular tree is always in high demand, so order now while our limited stock is still available.