Native Plant Profile - Western Sand Cherry


Prunus besseyi 'Pawnee Buttes' in mid spring

Prunus besseyi 'Pawnee Buttes' in mid spring

Common name: Sand Cherry; Western Sand Cherry

Botanical name: Prunus besseyi

Mature height: 12-18” for ‘Pawnee Buttes’, 60” +/- for typical variety

Mature width: 48-72”

Plant type: Deciduous Woody Shrub

Availability: Readily available from nurseries, two types available. ‘Pawnee Buttes’ is a groundcover; typical plant type is an upright rounded shrub.

Bloom season: Spring

Bloom color: White and fragrant

Hardiness zones: 3a – 8

Soil type: Adaptable, fairly course or loamy soils are best, but will adapt to clay loam. Neutral to alkaline soils.

Water usage: Low – very low

Sun exposure: Full sun to part shade

Native range: Western US and into parts of Canada

Wildlife value: High. Provides cover for nesting birds, and the fruits provide a natural food source for countless bird species and other foragers such as rabbits and deer. Cherries can also be used in jams and jellies, or eaten raw. May contain small amounts of naturally occurring cyanide.

Landscape value: High value in xeric and native plantings. Its high adaptability to moisture levels, sunlight exposure, and soil texture earned this plant a Plant Select award in 2000. Great for attracting beneficial insects and pollinators. Fruit provides a food source for humans and animals alike. It is fast growing and adaptable, and has low susceptibility to disease and pests.

Description: This plant is native to the western US, but the ‘Pawnee Buttes’ groundcover cultivar, which is a natural deviation from the upright form, can be found growing in the Pawnee Buttes Natural areas. It is very adaptable to harsh Colorado climate extremes, and very showy for three seasons. In winter it holds good form and can withstand heavy snow loads. The plants bud out in spring with copious white fragrant flowers. Linear green leaves cover the plant in early summer and provide excellent texture. The leaves turn a glowing red/orange in fall. The plants are typically covered in sour cherries in mid-summer, if you can get to them before the animals do! The typical shrub type is an upright rounded form, growing to 5-6’ in width and height. The spreading form has all the same characteristics outside of the varied growth habit, which is a low growing groundcover. It is striking as a specimen or in mass plantings, and has high xeric, native, and habitat values. Best of all, it is easy to grow, easy to find, low maintenance, and attractive! It adds grace and sophistication to both the commercial and the residential landscape, provided it is given adequate room to grow. Why plant other non-native groundcovers (looking at you, cotoneaster) when this one is a perfect fit for almost any planting?

Prunus besseyi 'Pawnee Buttes' in summer

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