The arrival of the cherry plum blossom in late February for me marks the turn of winter, the first promise of the fruits of the summer ahead. Suddenly winter’s drab colours are enlivened by stretches of brilliant white blossom on still leafless trees in hedgerows, at wood edges, across commons and on garden boundaries.
Wherever this earliest blossom breaks the greys and browns of winter, July and August will bring abundant golden or scarlet fruit, honey sweet with sharply sour skin. It’s often said, and repeated this month by Simon Barnes in the Times, that the cherry plum rarely fruits in Britain, but I’ve collected reliably good crops for years.
The cherry plum is a much neglected fruit. Neither cherry nor plum, it isn’t even quite the mirabelle, so loved by the French, for which it’s often mistaken. The cherry plum’s alternative name, myrobolan, suggests close kinship but the cherry plum is its own distinct species, prunus cerasifera. It’s native to central Asia and a parent to cultivated plums and gages.
The better-known blackthorn follows the cherry plum into bloom almost a full month later and is now appearing as the cherry plum blossom drops. The past few days have seen a classic blackthorn winter. The cherry plum’s early young fruit should weather such cold snaps but they’re more threatening to delicate garden peaches also coming into bloom.