INDIAN PLUM, OSOBERRY, OREGON PLUM, SKUNK BUSH
Pronounced: oom-LER-ee-uh seh-ruh-sih-FORM-is
Sunset zones: 4-9, 14-24.
USDA zones: 6-10.
Height: 6-20 feet (2-6 m). Width: 12 feet (4 m).
Pendant racemes of bell-shaped flowers.
Green, lance-shaped leaves that are gray-green underneath and fuzzy. Leaves when crushed have a cucumber or watermelon rind scent.
Upright, sometimes suckering.
Shade to full sun.
Moist, humus rich soil.
Sow seeds when ripe.
Greenwood cuttings in early summer
Transplant any suckers around the base of shrub in autumn months.
Prune after flowering. Cut down to the ground to revive an overgrown shrub.
Rainy Side Notes
Many years ago, I lived where we had woods, consisting mainly of Big leaf maple and Red alder, on the south side of our home. Indian plum was the main plant in the understory. Mornings, during late winter, the flowers would light up the deciduous woodland whenever the sun peeked out of the perpetual clouds. When the light reached the understory, racemes of flowers shimmered as if little jewels in the morning light. Those sunny mornings when I gazed out my window is permanently etched in my memory.
Several of my sources say the flower has a scent of almonds. I did a nose test and I wouldn't equate it to almonds. However, it did remind me of boxwood, but with a greener smell to it. One of my sources said the smell might be undesirable. I thought it was not unpleasant, just different. If the smell was stronger, I believe it would be unpleasant—more like cat urine. Fragrance, whether good or bad, I suppose is in the nose of the beholder. Thankfully, the odor does not carry through the air; you must get your nose down into the flower to capture its essence.
Birds, rodents, deer, bear, foxes and coyotes, all relish the small, bittersweet fruits. The shrubs are either male or female, so if you want fruit, you will need both for pollination. The flowers are an early nectar source for bees and other insects.
Native Americans in our region ate the fruit. For medicinal purposes they chewed on the twigs and then applied them to sore places. For a tonic and purgative, some used the bark to make a bark tea.
In the Garden
In the landscape, Indian plum is perfect in the hedgerow or as a specimen plant. There are homes where I see them used as a deciduous hedge for privacy. Consider these shrubs for your own backyard wildlife habitat, or restoration project.
Top four images photographed in Indianola, Washington; bottom image photographed in author's garden.