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Prunus besseyi Bailey

Rocky Mountains Cherry

Modern name

Prunus besseyi L.H.Bailey


P. pumila var. besseyi (Bailey) Waugh

A dwarf deciduous shrub 2 to 4 ft high, with glabrous branchlets. Leaves grey-green, oval or oval-lanceolate, sometimes obovate, 1 to 212 in. long, shallowly toothed on the upper two-thirds, glabrous. Flowers in stalkless clusters of two to four from the buds of the previous year’s shoots; each flower pure white, 58 in. across, on a stalk 13 in. long; calyx green, with ovate, slightly toothed lobes. Fruits on more or less pendent stalks, oblong or nearly round, 34 in. long, covered with a purplish bloom at first, finally black. Bot. Mag., t. 8156.

Native of the hot, dry plains east of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, etc., where it promises to be a valuable fruit-bearing shrub. It is remarkably prolific there, and in Colorado sixteen quarts of fruit have been gathered from a bush three years old, and eighty fruits from a branch 1 ft long. It was introduced to Kew in 1900, and has proved to be an ornamental little shrub, flowering so freely in late April or early May as to make each twig a cylindrical mass of blossom. Its fruits are only sparingly borne in England.

P. utahensis Koehne – This is believed to be a hybrid between P. besseyi and P. watsonii; it originated as an accidental cross in the grounds of J. E. Johnson at Red River, Nebraska, but was first distributed after he moved to a new property in Utah. Fruits blue-black, bloomy.

P. × cistena (Hansen) Koehne P. ‘Cistena’ Hansen – A hybrid between P. pumila (or P. besseyi?) and P. cerasifera ‘Pissardii’, raised early this century by the well-known American plant-breeder Dr N. E. Hansen at the South Dakota State Experimental Station. It grows to about 6 ft high and as much wide and has oblanceolate pointed leaves 112 to 212 in. long, which are crimson when young, becoming bronzy red. Flowers white, borne usually in April just before the leaves expand; stalks and calyx purple. Fruits cherry-like, dark purple.

This shrub seems to have reached Britain in the mid-195os and is now quite common in commerce as a hedging plant. ‘Cistena’ is the Sioux Indian name for baby and Koehne used the name as a scientific epithet.



Other species in the genus