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Spencer Hollywood plums in early July

'Spencer Hollywood' Plum; Prunus 'Spencer Hollywood'
Rose Family; ROSACEÆ

    'Spencer Hollywood' is my favorite of Seattle's thirteen kinds of purpleleaf plum trees. I am well acquainted with all thirteen varieties, so this preference is firmly grounded, no mere whimsical fancy. There are good reasons why the present rarity of the tree should be reduced by additional planting of it.
    Plum trees are divided into fruiting varieties and ornamental or flowering varieties. Every kind sold locally as an ornamental or flowering plum has purplish leaves, so the term purpleleaf plum is also used synonymously to signify decorative varieties. Several purpleleaf plums, however, not only bear attractive white or pink flowers, but also produce fruit so heavily that they've earned reputations as "edible ornamental plants." Examples of such purpleleaf edible-fruited plums include 'Allred', 'Hollywood', 'Trailblazer' and 'Spencer Hollywood'. All four varieties can produce plums for eating on a par with Japanese or European fruiting plums. Other purpleleaf plums such as 'Pissardii' and 'Thundercloud' also make plums, but not as many, or of inferior quality.
    'Spencer Hollywood' deserves to be better known and more widely grown for four reasons: 1) It is a natural dwarf; most other purpleleaf plums grow larger, some getting awkwardly gigantic in small yards. 2) Its flowers, besides their beauty, are fragrant --unlike those of almost all other plums. 3) Its plums are abundant, handsome and delicious. 4) It is rare, and our planting diversely makes life more interesting, and a healthier environment.
    My Trees of Seattle book mentions 'Spencer Hollywood' but cites no examples. I know of only three in the city and a fourth on N 165th Street. If anyone knows or suspects examples I am eager to hear about them (By now I know plenty in Seattle . . .).
    The tree is pink with fragrant blossoms in early spring, then the leaves come out a deep purple color, attractively shiny. By early summer the older leaves are glossy dark green on their upper sides, purplish on the undersides. Greenleaf rootsuckers come up occasionally and should be kept suppressed. The branches tend to arch and bend gracefully down under the weight of numerous large red plums, which ripen in late July, or, usually, during August. The plums are red on the inside, too, and very tasty.
    So, the tree is pretty, fragrant, edible, of convenient size --what more can we ask? Yet rare. Why so rare? Where did it come from? Here is its story.
    Sometime, probably in the 1950s, the nurseryman Samuel J. Rich (died at age 87 in May 1992), of Hillsboro, Oregon (not far from Portland), was contacted by some friends. Mr Rich reported to me in 1987:

    "The Spencer Hollywood that we sold came to us from some friends who had it growing in their yard, apparently from a seedling. At the time we presumed it to be Hollywood because of its fruit but when we started growing it and later obtained the real Hollywood it was evident that our plum was different. It (our) plum was decidedly smaller and had desirable fruit. Our tree was only three to four feet and produced fruit the second growing season. When compared with the Hollywood which we finally got from California it was much slower growing and a much smaller tree."
    "The name "Spencer" is the name of the people from whom I got the original budwood. Their tree was quite small, probably not more than 4' and had 15 or 20 plums on it at the time. We don't know anything more about its origin. We named the plum for the people who had it in their yard. They did not know of its origin or who planted the tree."

    For some years, therefore, the Rich company had sold 'Spencer Hollywood' under the name 'Hollywood'. Curiously enough, another tree, named 'Trailblazer' by Rich, is also often sold as 'Hollywood'! Thus three different clones have been sold under the same name. The real 'Hollywood' of California origin looks nothing like 'Spencer' because it is a huge tree with large leaves ripening its plums in late June or early July. 'Trailblazer' leaves are small and look much like those of 'Spencer Hollywood' but the flowers differ greatly: the flowers of 'Spencer' are an inch or more wide, on long stalks, and are pink and fragrant; 'Trailblazer' flowers are scarcely over half an inch wide and are palest pink, not fragrant, on short stalks. Also, 'Trailblazer' blooms later in spring, and grows broader and is not such a dwarf.
    Although 'Trailblazer' can be readily (not so readily as once . . .) purchased under the name 'Hollywood', the only (now other nurseries sell it, as 'Hollywood' . . .) Washington nursery I know offering 'Spencer Hollywood' is Hartman's Fruit Tree Nursery, 713 21st St SE, Puyallup, WA; (253) 848-1484; www.hartmannursery.com. It is for sale bare-root only, from approximately mid-November through mid-March, whenever the ground is not frozen.

    (Originally published in the August 1990 Seattle Tilth newsletter, along with an illustration drawn by Annie Figliola.)

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Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert

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