A plum is very closely related to cherries and peaches, and it has a wax coating called “wax bloom” on it that gives plums the color between a yellow and blue hue, depending on the variety. Plums are part of the Rosaceae family and the Prunus genus. If you’re after fruits that humans domesticated, plums are a great choice. Different plum varieties have different origins, including the ones that came from the Caucasian mountains and Eastern Europe while others came from China.
Plums are Healthy for You
Although sugar plums might sound like a fruit, they’re actually a hardened piece of candy made from sugar, and they’re not necessarily talking about a plum fruit. So, don’t get confused when you eat sugar plums and think that they’re actually plums. Raw plums have around 12% of your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C, and plums also have a makeup that is 87% water. Fresh plums are usually dried, and dried plums are referred to as prunes. Prunes have minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber that can help with a host of health issues.
Plum Tree by Yamanaka Tamaki / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The History of Plums
Plums are soft, juicy, and smaller sweet fruits that you can eat raw, cooked, or add to desserts. Plums originated in Iran, but you can now find them growing all over the world. There are several different types of plums available now, including European plums and Japanese plums. Plums were thought to be the first fruit that humans cultivated. However, a lot of people mistakenly think that plums were domesticated by cultivars in the wild. The truth is that plum cultivation started in the Caucasian mountains by the Caspian Sea and in the Eastern European mountains. People think that plums got carried to Rome in 200 B.C. and ended up in Northern Europe later.
Some other people think that the Duke of Anjou brought plums to Europe from Jerusalem between 1198 and 1204 A.D. Whatever the truth may be, people believe that plums were raised and planted in the Old World and New World. You can find this fruit mentioned in documents that date back to 479 B.C., and the Chinese domesticated them around this time. Confucius praised and adored this tart but sweet fruit.
17 Different Types of Plums
Since there are so many types of plums available, it’s common for people to want to try different ones to see how the taste varies. We’ve picked out several types of plums and described them for you below.
This type of plum is part of the common European plums. Greengages come from the green fruited plum tree, and they do extremely well when you plant them in areas that have mild temperatures all year-round. When you eat this fruit, you’ll get a very confectionary and rich flavor profile. This is what makes it a popular choice for different types of desserts. They have higher levels of pectin in them, and this means that they preserve very nicely. Aside from desserts and jams, this fruit works well in a host of different dishes, including soused fish and sashimi. The sweet flavor will curb stronger flavors in the dish.
Greengages by Rain Rabbit / CC BY-NC 2.0
Also known as the mirabelle prune or the cherry plum, this product comes from a wild fruit that people grew and cultivated in Anatolia, and it’s part of the European plum family. However, this variety is actually banned throughout the United States because there are restrictions on accepting imports from Lorraine, France, and this is where these plums are grown. This product has a very sweet taste to it, and you get a mellow but tasty flavor profile. When you harvest this fruit, it’s common to use it in desserts like pies as you would strawberries, or in fruit preserves. You can ferment this fruit’s juice into wine, or you can create distilled plum brandy with it. To get the best flavor, you’ll eat it raw and fresh.
Mirabelle plums by umami / CC BY-NC 2.0
Also called Chinese plums or Prunus salicina, this fruit gets produced by sun-loving, small deciduous trees that you can find in farms all over Korea, Japan, Australia, Vietnam, and in the United States. However, these round and wrinkled to smooth fruits actually originated in China before spreading out across the world. If you get Japanese-grown fruit, you’ll hear them called umeboshi. They have a very sour and salty flavor because of the higher citric acid content. If you go for other varieties of this fruit, you’ll find that they have a very juicy and sweet flavor.
Japanese plums by pelican / CC BY-SA 2.0
The scientific name for this fruit is prunus cerasifera, and it’s native to Western Asia and Southeast Europe. You may hear them called myrobalan plums. They’ve also been established in parts of the United States and in the British Isles. You’ll get a soft texture with a juicy flesh, and they have a very bold and bright taste to them. The acidic sweetness gets nicely balanced using the tart flavor. Additionally, the nutrient content in this fruit is good for your body’s metabolism and your nervous system. They have a very bright red color with longer stems that resembles large cherries.
Cherry plum by far closer / CC BY 2.0
The fleshy fruit of this plum has a single seed in it called a damascene, and it’s another variety that falls into the european plum category. You can find this fruit in Great Britain, but you’ll also find the insititia varieties growing across Europe regions. The trees will produce a small fruit that has a very noticeable blue skin, and they can contain bigger stones. You also get a very sour taste with a strong scent, and this is why it’s not advised to eat this fruit raw. You can stew this fruit and eat it, and it makes a nice dessert if you add a layer of whipped cream to the top of the stewed fruits. It containers fiber, and this makes it good for your digestive health. It can also boost your immune system.
Damson Plums by Isosceles / CC BY-NC 2.0
This plum is a form of hybrid, and it falls into the interspecific plum category. You may hear them called pluots. A plumcot gives you a very sweet flavor profile without the usual bitter taste that you can get with other types of cultivated plums. It’s a healthy and easy-to-carry snack, and it comes packed with minerals and vitamins. You can eat it raw without having to peel it, and this makes it a great addition to your lunch. The pits are very small in this type of fruit, so you get more flesh each time you eat them. They have deeper purple skin with reddish-tinged flesh.
Plumcot by Mike Gifford / CC BY-NC 2.0
This is one of the best european plum varieties available on the market, and the plum tree can bear a very abundant and large crop of larger fruits. If you want to get better crops with this type of fruit, you can easily cross-pollinate it with other types. They work well with the brook plums. This plant is also very resistant to diseases, and you can eat them fresh and raw without a problem. Since they’re larger, you can also easily turn them into jellies and jams. They go well in a host of recipes, and you can easily dry them to have them later. They have a purplish-red skin with a yellowish-tinged interior.
starr-110920-9212-Prunus_domestica by Forest and Kim Starr / CC BY 2.0
8. Elephant Heart
Just like the name would suggest, this is a much larger variety of plum that comes in the shape of a heart. The skin can range from purple to dark red, and it has a very firm texture to it. The flesh is very juicy and sweet, and it can have enough moisture to feel like you’re drinking juice when you eat it. It has the classification of a Japanese plum, and it’s very good if you eat it fresh. This fruit variety also has a very fine balance between being tart and sweet, and the most notable feature is that the flesh tastes like berries. You’ll typically pick this pump between September and October, so it’s a later-season fruit.
starr-100701-8067-Prunus_cerasifera_x_salicina by Forest and Kim Starr / CC BY 2.0
This type of plum hails from Japan, and it has a skin that has a much lighter coloring to it than other types, and it’s almost amber. However, it can also range from dark violet to a bright black coloring in some instances, and it has a very round shape. The flesh is an orange-tinged shade, and you get a small pit with a juicy and sweet taste. They’re ready to pick later in the season around three weeks after the Black Ruby is ready to go. The firm flesh of this plum makes it very popular to eat fresh. The trees have a much longer harvesting time to them, and the bumper crop will only be ready in the later weeks of August.
Prunus americana by Matt Lavin / CC BY-SA 2.0
10. French Prune
This is another fresh European plum variety that makes prunes once you dry them out. This is a stone fruit that features an oblong shape that looks like a small pear. It’s a very small variety, and it only gets to around walnut size at full maturity with a smaller tree. You get a smokey and dark skin that has light blue to purple coloring, and the flesh of this fruit is a very dark amber color. The fruit is ready to harvest in the later summer months, and the Improved French Prune variety is very popular throughout the United States. When it’s soft, it’s very sweet. However, as it gets firm, it’ll get very tart.
French prunes by Pat Knight / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
11. Black Beauty
This is another Japanese plum that comes with a darker purple skin and a bright yellow flesh. It’s a very juicy type of fruit with firm flesh, and it can get medium or large if you let it grow longer. This is one type of plum that you want to eat when it’s still fresh. You should squeeze the flesh and have it give lightly. If it does, it means that it’s ready to go. If it’s unripe and hard, you can store it at room temperature and wait for it to soften. You’ll get a nice balance of tartness and sweetness once it’s soft, but it’s very tart when it’s hard.
starr-090513-7614-Prunus_cerasifera by Forest and Kim Starr / CC BY 2.0
Blood plums are a Japanese-style fruit that has a very dark red flesh and skin, and this makes them very recognizable. The flesh of this fruit has a tough and firm texture, but it’s surprisingly sweet and tasty when you bite into it. The fruit looks slightly bigger than other types of plums, and it can also have cherry tones. This type of plum is very rich in antioxidants, and this can help your body fight off heart disease and other chronic illnesses. It’s also a good thing to eat for people who suffer from high blood pressure, anxiety, or constipation.
Blood plums, champagne grapes by litherland / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
13. Black Amber
Black amber is a Japanese-style plum that offers a very large fruit that has an almost black appearance. As the fruit starts to ripen, the flesh turns to a very pale yellow coloring. This is one easy way to tell whether or not it’s ready to eat. You get a very bright and juicy taste and feel with it, and it’s great for eating raw. However, you also can’t go wrong if you cook it and add it to dishes or create sweet sauces out of it. This type of fruit is a very good source of concentrated vitamin A, and this can help keep your eyes healthy.
Black Amber Plum by Augustus Binu / CC BY-SA 2.0
Lemon plums are a smaller variety available that originated in Chile. As the name would suggest, you get a bright yellow exterior coloring that makes it look more like a lemon than a plum. However, the flesh is a very big distinguishing feature for this fruit. It has a very sweet taste with a hint of lemon-tartness. The flesh will be crisp and firm at first, and it gets much softer as the fruit ripens. You can eat this fruit raw and fresh by slicing it very thinly and sprinkling a small amount of salt on it. You can also add it to salads or create tangy compote by cooking it in sugar.
DSC_0433 by batwrangler / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
15. El Dorado
This is another plum from the European family, and they have an amber flesh with a darker skin. The flesh will give you a very sweet flavor profile, and it has a very firm texture to it. The skin can give you a slightly sour taste. However, it’s very popular on menus as long as you put aside time to cook it because the more firm texture can hold up to the heat well without turning mushy. You could also eat these fruits raw without a problem, but you should be aware that it has an extremely sweet taste to it.
Starr-110727-7940 by Forest and Kim Starr / CC BY 2.0
16. Black Splendor
This is a slightly newer type of plum that tastes very sweet, and you’ll see a blackish-blue color on the outer layer. The interior flesh layer is a reddish color, and it’s juicy. They grow in medium to large sizes, but this is an early-season plum that is ready to go in the first to third week of June. So, this means that they do better in warmer planting zones as they’ll need to start budding earlier in the year to ensure that they’re ready to pick at the appropriate time. They have a slightly firm texture that softens as they ripen, and they’re great in baked recipes.
Chilean Black Plums by arsheffield / CC BY-NC 2.0
Red plums come with a very tart and sweet flavor profile that can help boost your vitamin and mineral intake while giving you a lot of antioxidants. The outer skin layer can vary in color from dark purple to light red, and the flesh can also vary in color. The flesh can also be red, but it can go up to a lighter yellow color too. The yellow-fleshed plums usually have more nutrients in them than the red-fleshed ones.
Red plums by Nick Saltmarsh / CC BY 2.0
Telling if Plums are Ripe and Harvesting
No matter what type of plum you pick out, you harvest them the same way. They grow in a deciduous tree that can easily get 20-feet or more high, but you can keep it pruned to 10-feet or less to make harvesting your fruit easier. Depending on the weather, variety, and microclimate, your plums could be ready to harvest between June to September.
Plums typically develop for three to four months from blossoms, and they ripen from a very green and hard stage to soft and fully colored on the tree. They will only be ripe on the tree for a smaller two-week window, and they’ll start dropping as they over ripen. You could find a mix of green-tinged and unripe fruit on the tree with fully ripe fruit at the same time.
Additionally, it’s important to note that most plums won’t improve very much once you pick them from the tree, so you’ll want to pick the tree and harvest the plums several times during the two-week window. This will give you the best fruit while reducing the mess to your landscape. You can tell if your plums are ripe by checking:
- Color – Plums can turn a huge range of colors based on the variety, including purple, almost black, or red to a pale green. You can have trouble telling if a plum is ripe just by looking at the coloring.
- Feel/Texture – Ripe plums are usually soft, and they’ll give a little when you press them. An over ripe plum will be very squishy, soft, and splat on the ground.
- Smell – You can give your fruit the smell test too. A ripe fruit will smell very fruity and sweet while an unripe one will have no smell.
- Taste – The best way to tell if it’s ripe is to taste it. A ripe piece of fruit will be very flavorful, sweet, and juicy. A less ripe one will be bitter or less sweet.
Harvest time by JuliaC2006 / CC BY 2.0
How to Harvest Plums – Four Ways
You can harvest your plums one of several ways, and some ways may work better for you than others. Once you know what they are, you can choose the ones that are best for your situation.
Pick by Hand
The safest and easiest way to harvest this fruit is to pick it by hand from the ground. Gently grasp the plum with your fingers and press upwards on the stem. It’ll snap off the branch when it’s ripe. You may need to hold the plum in one hand and hold the branch in your other hand. Some varieties will have to be pulled, but most come off the branch better when you push up. Try out both ways and see which one works best for you. The goal is to find a way that doesn’t pull the stem out and leave an open hole to minimize damage to the fruit.
Pick Using a Pole Picker
If you have larger, firm, and rounder varieties like Mariposa or the Santa Rosa, you can pick them using a telescoping pole that is called a pole picker. Put a picker basket under the fruit and place the metal fingers around the fruit before tugging gently.
Catch and Shake
If you have plums that are just too high to reach, you can use a ladder or stool to reach higher. However, the shake and catch method works very well too, and it goes much quicker. You can harvest plums from 20 feet up and higher. You’ll need a sheet or tarp, a stick, broom, or light garden tool, and a few friends or family members. To use this method, you’ll:
- Get three to four people and have them go around the tree
- Stretch the old sheet or tarp under the tree without letting it touch the ground
- Gently shake any branches above the tarp or sheet
- Catch the fruit as it falls. Usually, only the riper fruits will fall without getting any damage or bruises
- When the sheet or tarp gets heavy enough, gently gather the corners together, scoop the fruit out, and sort it
You could also drape a net under the tree and leave it. As the wind rattles the branches, it’ll shake the fruit down into the net. You go out in the morning and gather anything that fell.
Ladder or Stool
If you want to use a stool or ladder to pick your fruit, make sure that you’re very safe. Put the ladders or stools carefully around the tree and double-check the stability. Keep your body facing the ladder and don’t reach out too far. Instead of stretching, make a point to move the ladder or stool. Hand a bag or bucket near the top of the ladder to put your fruit in as you pick it.
Sorting and Storing Plums
Once you finish harvesting your fruit each day, you’ll want to sort through them. You can discard any unusable fruit as you go. The best plums should be somewhat firm, fully colored, and have no damage to the interior. You want to sort out any fruit that is split, damaged, oozing, too soft, or unripe. Any extra-ripe fruit you get is also soft, and this makes it more juicy and sweet. However, it’s also highly perishable, so you’ll want to use them right away or refrigerate them.
You can store your plums whole in the refrigerator in a bowl with cling wrap on it for four four to five days. You can also cut the plums, remove the pits, and cut them to wedges or slices in your desired size. They’ll last for three or four days this way.
You can also freeze plums by washing and allowing them to air dry. Remove the pits and cut them into slices. Put your slices on a sheet pan, and put the pan into the freezer and leave until they freeze solid. Take the pans back out of the freezer and put the frozen slices into a freezer bag. Try to press out as much air as possible and seal the bags. Put them into the deepest part of the freezer and store for up to eight months.
Plums are a very versatile fruit that go in dishes and desserts, and you have many different types to choose from when you start to shop. We’ve outlined 17 different options, how to harvest them, and how to store them. You can use this short guide to decide which types of plums you want and try to grow some of your own.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.