Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere

American Plum

The American Plum generally refers to wide variety of plums native to North America before arrival of European colonists.  While many of these varieties remain today, most plums found in the supermarket are domestic hybrids created specifically for cultivation in North America.  Three common “pre-colonial” varieties include the coastal ‘Beach Plum’, the inland ‘American wild plum’ (Prunus americana) and the southeastern ‘Chickasaw plum’ (Prunus angustifolia) named for the local Chickasaw tribe (Davidson, 614).

There is evidence to suggest that some American wild plum orchards were not in fact, wild.  Several varieties of yellow and red plums were likely cultivated by indigenous peoples living in present day New England and Canada (Harvard, 103).  The Chickasaw plum for example, likely developed along the eastern steppes of the Rocky Mountains and was transported by the Chickasaw Indians to the southeastern region of the country (Harvard, 103).    

While traveling through the Choctaw lands of southern Oklahoma during the 1840s, historian George Catlin wrote, “our progress was oftentimes completely arrested by hundreds of acres of small plum trees...every bush that was in sight was so loaded with the weight of its...fruit, that they were in many instances literally without leaves on their branches, and quite bent to the ground” (Laws).  These acres of bushes that Catlin describes were most likely the result of conscious cultivation by the Choctaws, as opposed to the random spread of wild plants (Laws). 

Perhaps the earliest written mention of plums in North America came from the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano.  His 1524 letter to King Francis I of France bristles with excitement over the discovery of plums and other indigenous fruit (Wroth).  


Plum Facts and Photos


Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University press,  1999.
Evans, Erv; Johnson, Christa, and Monroe, Heather. “Prunus americana.” 2000-2003. North Carolina State University.

Havard, V. “Food Plants of the North American Indians” Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club Vol. 22, No. 3, Mar. 27, 1895.  pp. Published by: Torrey Botanical Society. pp. 98-123.

Laws, Rita. “History of Vegetarianism:  Native Americans and Vegetarianism.” Vegetarian Journal, Sept. 1994. Published by The Vegetarian Resource Group.

TWC Staff. “Prunus americana.” Native Plant Database. 2008.
University of Texas. 1 April 2008.>

Verrazzano, Giovanni da. The Written Record of the Voyage of 1524 of Giovanni da Verrazzano as recorded in a letter to Francis I, King of France, July 8th, 1524. Citing: Wroth, Lawrence C., ed. (1970). The Voyages of Giovanni da Verrazzano, 1524-1528. Yale, pp. 133-143. Citing: a translation by Susan Tarrow of the Cellere Codex.