Drought Tolerant Species: Mexican Plum

By: Emily Plauche, Urban Forestry Coordinator

Summer in Texas is hot. Need a way to beat the heat? One of the best ways to combat the heat is to plant native, drought-tolerant trees.

Large trees that cast shade provide the most cooling benefits, but these aren’t always appropriate to plant. Certain situations such as lack of space, overhead powerlines, or proximity to a building call for smaller tree species. Small trees are also commonly selected for their showy blooms or edible fruit.

In comes Mexican plum! This is a small tree that can grow up to 20-30 feet tall and has a canopy spread up to 25 feet with a short, irregular crown with dull green foliage. Mexican plum is native to the central United States and Mexico and is widely available as a drought-tolerant landscape tree in commercial nurseries. Mexican plum trees do best in full sun to dappled shade. This tree is relatively slow growing and will likely grow 12 inches or less per year.

Mexican plum is most notable for its beautiful clusters of white fragrant flowers, which appear in March before the leaves. This tree is usually the first tree to flower in late February or early March and marks the end of Texas winter. The fragrant spring blooms are highly attractive to bees and other pollinators. Even though Mexican plum is a showstopper in the spring, it will also provide nice fall color. The green leaves will turn a beautiful shade of orange before they fall to the ground.

Just as the name implies, Mexican plum has an edible plum that ripens in late summer that is dark-purple red in color. Birds and other small animals enjoy the small fruit, so plum-pickers should be ready to quickly pick the ripened fruit in late summer. Plums can be eaten straight from the tree or used to make jams and jellies.

Mexican plums can thrive in most soil conditions and are drought tolerant once established. Newly planted trees should be watered regularly until established, which is usually around two years. During hot summer temperatures, newly planted trees should be deeply watered 2-3x per week in the absence of rain. During cooler winter temperatures, newly planted trees can be watered just once per week.

Planting a tree correctly can be a laborious task but the up-front effort will give your tree the best shot at success. Plant your new tree in the fall when temperatures have cooled down and the tree has time to establish roots. When planting a tree, dig a hole just slightly shallower than the depth of the root ball and at least a few inches larger than the circumference. The root flare of a properly planted tree should sit about an inch above ground level. Avoid making a mulch volcano and piling excess mulch around the root flare or trunk of the tree. Mulch should sit around the root ball, which will help insulate tree roots and minimize evaporation from the soil during summer months.

Other Heat Tolerant Tree Species for North Texas

  • Crape myrtle
  • Cedar elm
  • Chinquapin oak
  • Bur oak
  • Lacey oak
  • Live oak
  • Southern catalpa
  • Shumard oak
  • Shantung maple
  • Texas buckeye
  • Desert willow
  • Bald Cypress (if watered properly)
  • Chinese pistache
Blossoms from Mexican Plum tree
Blossoms from Mexican Plum tree
Unripe fruit on a Mexican Plum tree- Image by Lindsay Hoot
Unripe fruit on a Mexican Plum tree - Image by Lindsay Hoot
Fall ripened fruit on Mexican plum tree- Image from neilsperry.com
Fall ripened fruit on Mexican plum tree- Image from neilsperry.com
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