Purple Leaf Sand Cherry – What Is It?
The purple leaves are not just decorative. They have medicinal value too! The leaves contain various compounds called flavonoids which are thought to have anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antioxidant and anticancer properties. These compounds may even reduce blood pressure and protect against heart disease. There is evidence that these compounds may prevent cancer as well.
Purple leaf sand cherries (Sander vitae) are native to the western United States. They grow from about 2 feet up to over 10 feet tall and produce large fruits with red or pink flesh. Their berries are used in many different ways including making wine, jam, jelly, juice and syrup. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach or kale.
Purple leaf sand cherries are a shade tolerant plant and can tolerate some light shade. They prefer full sun but will do best under partial shade. Purple leaf sand cherries are drought tolerant so they make excellent garden companions.
How To Grow A Purple Leaf Sand Cherry Tree?
Growing purple sand cherry trees requires plenty of sunlight and water. If you live in a desert climate, then growing them might be difficult since there isn’t much direct sunshine in your area. You should still try growing purple sand cherry trees in a pot if you live in a desert region. It is possible to grow them in smaller pots since they don’t need much water to survive. You will need to water them once every couple of weeks.
Purple sand cherries can be grown from seed, cuttings or by planting the root. It’s easier to grow them from a purchased root since you can be sure it is the right kind of plant. Most garden centers or nurseries don’t normally carry this type of plant so you will most likely have to special order it.
When you receive your purple sand cherry tree, it is best to soak the root in water for a few hours before planting it. This will make the root system easier to handle and help it retain moisture. You should drain out all the water and plant the root about 2 inches deeper than it was planted originally. Make sure it is pointed in the direction you want the plant to grow.
You should add more soil around the root system and gently firm the soil around the root to keep it in place. Add a few stones around the base of the plant to act as a watering basin since sand cherries don’t do well with water-logged roots.
Purple sand cherries require about 20 feet between plants since they grow up to 10 feet tall. You should space them about 10 feet apart.
Purple sand cherries can be grown in pots but you will need a large one since they have a large root system. You should use a well-draining potting soil and place the whole pot on top of a bed of stones to allow for better drainage. You should also add some more stones underneath the pot so it doesn’t topple over. You should only water the plant when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.
You can start purple sand cherry trees indoors and then transplant them outside after the last frost or you can sow the seeds directly into the ground. Either way, you should only plant them outside after all danger of frost has passed.
You can fertilize the soil before planting but it is not required since purple sand cherries are heavy feeders so it’s best to add a few fertilizer pellets when transplanting outdoors.
Purple sand cherry trees are susceptible to getting their roots water-logged so you should never stand them in standing water. It’s best to add a few stones underneath the pot to allow for proper drainage.
Purple sand cherries can tolerate some drought conditions but they will grow stronger if they receive adequate water. It’s best to water them regularly so they don’t get stressed.
You can prune purple sand cherry trees during the late winter or early spring. They usually don’t require much pruning unless you want to sculpt them into specific shapes.
You can harvest the fruit when it reaches the size of a large pea. You can harvest purple sand cherries whenever you want and they will continue to grow more.
Purple sand cherries can cross-pollinate with other members of the Physalis family, so if you want to grow just purple sand cherries, you should plan your garden accordingly. You can plant a different variety at least 500 feet away from your garden or you can isolate your plants by using row covers or plastic food wrap.
Purple sand cherries grow best in full sun but will tolerate some light shade. They do not do well in overly wet conditions.
Cherries are usually self-pollinating but may perform better if you shake the tree (with caution) or use a small artist’s paintbrush to flick the pollen from the anthers of the stamen onto the stigma of the pistil on the next tree. You should only do this with trees that are fully developed. You can tell the difference between male and female flowers because the male has a small protuberance that looks like a little hat.
You can help increase the yield by planting more than one tree. Each tree will take a year to produce cherries and you should begin harvesting within three years of planting.
Purple sand cherries can be eaten fresh, cooked in pies or preserves or dried. They can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to a year.
You can cook with purple sand cherries or make jams, jellies, preserves, juice, pies, soups, sauces or even wine. They are particularly popular with sweet and sour recipes.
Other common names for this plant are: ground cherry, Missouri plum, buffalo berry, butter-berry, satin flower and prairie pointy.
Purple sand cherry trees are susceptible to a number of diseases that can severely weaken or kill the tree. These include anthracnose, crown gall, dieback and petal blight.
Invasive ragweed can weaken the tree, which is also susceptible to red spiders. Spider mites may also attack the leaves, which causes chlorotic spots and yellow patches to appear.
Purple sand cherries are susceptible to animals such as rabbits, deer and livestock that may browse on the foliage and even the bark.
The fruit is not especially attractive to wildlife in most regions but birds do enjoy them.
Sources & references used in this article:
The western sand cherry by NE Hansen, CE Bessey, C Wedge, RA Emerson – 1904 – openprairie.sdstate.edu
Pollination studies with stone fruits by WH Alderman, TS Weir – 1951 – conservancy.umn.edu
The effect of chilling and post-chilling temperatures on growth and flowering of sweet cherry (Prunus avium L.) by K Mahmood, JG Carew, P Hadley… – The Journal of …, 2000 – Taylor & Francis