In the Garden Now: Indian Plum

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Indian Plum
Bird Cherry or Oso Berry

Text and photo by Victoria Gilleland

When I first learned that the common name for this shrub or small tree was “Indian Plum” it brought a touch of excitement and wonder about the plant to me. I’ve always been interested in plants associated with our Northwest Native American cultures. When I researched this shrub I found that native peoples ate the fruit fresh, dried or cooked and found medicinal uses for various parts of the plant as well. The fruit resembles small dark cherries with large pits and remains bitter even when fully ripe. The fruit is eaten by birds, squirrels, coyotes, deer as well as bear. The name ‘Oso’ which is Spanish for ‘Bear’ was assigned to the plant by Spanish priests and explorers who noted that bear were eating the berries in the wild.

In late winter and early spring fragrant white flower clusters decorate the plants. They appear at about the same time as upright lime green leaves. The leaves smell a bit like cucumber when crushed. Over time plants reach about 8 feet tall and are fairly upright in their growth pattern so they’re easy to tuck into a garden bed. This plant is seldom bothered by insects or disease. Once established it is quite drought tolerant and holds its own with natural rainfall alone even in the dry shade beneath Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar trees.

Hummingbirds and insects are frequently seen visiting the flowers of Indian Plum in search of nectar. This year in my garden the first Indian Plum flowered in mid to late January and the last has just about finished.

This early blooming native is an easy to grow plant that could be the perfect addition to your shady woodland garden or to a pot in a shady area. Just remember to place the plant where you will be able to see it in the cool months of later winter. Add an elegant touch of light to your garden with this lovely native shrub.

(Botanical Name:  Oemleria cerasiformis )

Victoria Gilleland is the owner of Cottage Garden Designs, a Garden Design company specializing in Redesign of Residential Gardens, Garden Consultation and Coaching. She has been designing gardens in the northwest for over 20 years.


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