Skip to main content

Plummeting Through Autumn

Sydney Jordan Brown
Latest posts by Sydney Jordan Brown (see all)

Although we’re finally far from those scorching, smoke-hazed summer days, they were “Plum Good” ones for the Elephant Heart plum. Named for its oblong fruit reminiscent of a heart, its meat is sublimely sweet, succulent, and red as the richest Burgundy wine.  However, given their tenderness, you’ll likely never see or savor one unless it’s from your own tree.

Fortunately for us gardeners, this plum grows wonderfully in the home garden.  Although partially self-fertile, if you have the space, it produces even more if planted near (within 50 ft) a Santa Rosa variety pollinator plum.  

The Elephant Heart plum is a member of the Rosaceae family, as is an apricot. Both are in the Prunus genus, where their shoots have a terminal bud and side buds are solitary, not clustered as with others. Flowers grow in clusters up to five together on short stems and fruits have a groove down one side and a smooth stone.


Luther Burbank, who was instrumental in developing many plum varieties, created a gift for us with the development of the Elephant Heart plum in 1929. 

The Elephant Heart, or simply elephant or blood plum, is not only a very decorative specimen tree but produces one of the most striking and deliciously-flavored plums to be had.

The fruit of the plum is also a drupe, meaning it has an outer fleshy part (exocarp or skin and mesocarp, or flesh) surrounding a pit (or stone) with a seed inside. The true characteristic that defines a drupe is its hard lignified stone derived from the ovary wall of its flower.

The plums can be up to 7”-8” across, have freestone pits and have been nicknamed “blood oranges” for their luscious, richly red meat. Sliced or wedged displays on platters, or atop salads or other dishes, Elephant Hearts make a real showstopper along with the brilliant autumn leaves. They store remarkably well, so your late August-September harvest should last several months if stored in the fridge.

One of these heirloom plums will thrive if you have a sunny, well-drained spot to plant a tree in. A variety with a dwarf rootstock is available (see below). With diligent pruning, you’ll be rewarded bountifully each year. 

So, why not plant a tree of your own to pluck from it an impossible-to-find-elsewhere Elephant Heart plum?

A Bit of Trivia

Did you know?

  • Plums can be as small as a cherry or up to 3” in diameter. The Owen T cultivar is considered the largest, at 3” in diameter. For comparison, a U.S. baseball is up to 9” in diameter.
  • Plums grow on every continent except Antarctica. 
  • There were tart-tasting native plums in North America when the first European settlers arrived,
  • Plum remains have been found in Neolithic age archaeological sites along with olives, grapes and figs. 

Sources for Elephant Heart Plum trees:

One Green World

They have very good stock in a number of sizes.

The author of this article has been using them for over 20 yrs.


Plummily Colossal Crumble

Preheat oven to 350°F and oil bottom and sides of a 9” square baking pan

Crumble mix:

1 cup white whole wheat flour (or gluten free alternative)

½ cup oat flour

1½ cups regular rolled oats (not instant)

½ cup finely chopped toasted walnuts

2/3 cup organic brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon each ground allspice and nutmeg

¼ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Mix together all the dry ingredients. Pour the oil into the dry ingredients and mix with hands until topping begins to clump together.

Fruit filling:

½ cup organic sugar

2 tablespoons white whole wheat flour (or gluten free flour)

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

6 cups plums (about 8-10) washed and each cut in to 6 wedges.

2 tablespoons organic honey

zest and 2 tablespoons of juice from one organic lemon

Mix together dry ingredients.  Add plums, lemon zest and juice, and fold gently together until well-coated.

Spread fruit in prepared pan then cover with topping.  Bake on a cookie sheet in a preheated oven for about 45-50 minutes until bubbly and top is browned.  Serve warm with whipped cream, vanilla yogurt or ice cream.  Makes about 8 servings.