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A Comprehensive Guide to Desert Peach (Prunus andersonii)

Desert Peach (Prunus andersonii) is a shrub that is native to the states of California and Nevada in the United States. This plant is a host to four butterflies and many moths, including the Luna Moth and is an important nectar source for other insects. Growing from 3 to 10 feet tall, this species grows on dry slopes, washes, and desert scrub. The dark pink flowers bloom from March to May and the plant is hardy in zones 5-9.

Taxonomy and Naming of Desert Peach (Prunus andersonii)

Herbarium specimen of desert peach (Prunus andersonii).
Herbarium Specimen — Prunus andersonii A.Gray collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Desert Peach (Prunus andersonii) was named and described by Asa Gray, an American botanist, in 1868. It still has the same name and is a member of the Rose Family (Rosaceae).

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Prunus, is Latin for “plum tree.” The species name, andersonii, is a Latinized version of Charles Lewis Anderson of whom the species was named in honor of (Wikipedia).

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name comes the growing location of the species. Some other common names are wild almond (Mason 1913), Nevada Wild Almond (Stehr and Cook 1968), spiny peach (Davy 1898), and desert almond.

Physical Description

Pinkish flowers of desert peach (Prunus andersonii).
Flowers of Desert Peach — Prunus andersonii Gray observed in United States of America by Marcus Tamura (licensed under CC0 1.0)
  • Plant Type: This plant is a shrub.
  • Height: 3 to 10 feet tall
  • Stem: The stems have a lot of branches.
  • Leaves: The leaves are alternate, sessile to subsessile, elliptic to spatulate in shape, have serrate margins, and are 0.4 to 1 inches in length and 0.1 to 0.2 inches in width.
  • Flower color: pink to dark pink
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from March to May.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has yellow to orange drupes that mature from June to August. The fruits are pubescent (Mason 1913).

Range of Desert Peach in the United States and Canada

Range map of desert peach (Prunus andersonii) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023.(website https://bonap.org/). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2023. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]

This species is native to the states of California and Nevada in the United States.

Habitat

Dry rocky woodland habitat in the Western United States.
Dry Rocky Woodland Habitat — Patrick Alexander from Las Cruces, NM, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows on dry slopes, washes, sandy hills (Ford 1890), meadow edges (Davidson 1912), and desert scrub.

Hosted Insects

Pale swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) on a red flower.
Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) — ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Prunus genus is general is a host to four butterflies including the henry’s elfin (Callophrys henrici), Coral hairstreak (Satyrium titus), the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), and the Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) (Gaden, et al 2023). This genus also hosts many moths and one of the notable ones is the Luna Moth (Actias luna). This species also hosts a leaf bug (Pruneocoris stonedahli) (Schuh and Schwartz 2004) and the western tent caterpillar (Malacosoma californicum) (Stehr and Cook 1968).

Other Supported Wildlife

Metallic bee on white flower.
Flower with Metallic Bee — David Whelan, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is an important nectar source to other butterflies, skippers, bees, and wasps. Birds and small mammals enjoy the fruits in the summer. It has been noted to be a favored nectar plant for the Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui) (Guiliani and Sheilds 1998 and Guiliani and Sheilds 1997).

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethobotanical Database shows as the name would imply is a popular fruit and food, but it has also been used for pharmaceuticals. Native Americans in Nevada made teas from the boiled branches and used the tea for a number of medicines (Train, et al 1957).

How is this plant distinguished from other Cherries (Prunus spp.)?

This species is similar to the Mexican Plum (Prunus mexicana), but the Mexican Plum has does not produce root suckers like the American Plum (Flora of North America). The Mexican Plum also has a rounded leaf base versus the cuneate leaf base of the American Plum (Weakley, et al 2022) and the fruit of the Mexican Plum is bluish to purple-red (Robinson 1974) as compared to the brighter red of this species. This species is sometimes compared to the Canadian Plum (Prunus nigra), but the Canadian Plum has incurved teeth versus the straight teeth of this species (Arnold Arboretum 1923).

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has not been noted as being invasive in the literature.

Gardening with Desert Peach

Pinkish-red fruits of the desert peach (Prunus andersonii).
Fruits of the Desert Peach — Prunus andersonii Gray observed in United States of America by Ken-ichi Ueda (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 5-9. If your garden is within these zones and you have the right growing conditions (soil, moisture and exposure), you may well be able to grow this plant. However, if planted outside of its range, the hosted species may not recognize the plant or be harmed by ingesting a different species with an unfamiliar chemical composition.

Optimal Conditions

This species grows in full sun and prefers dry well-drained soil in sandy or gravelly soil.

References

  • Davidson, A. 1912. Botanizing in Inyo County. Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences 11: 15-17.
  • Davy, Joseph Burtt. 1898. Notes on the Flora of Honey-Lake Valley. Erythea 6: 1-11.
  • Ford, H.C. 1890. The Indigenous Shrubs of Santa Barbara County. Bulletin of the Santa Barbara Society of Natural History 1(2): 29-32.
  • Gaden S. Robinson; Phillip R. Ackery; Ian Kitching; George W Beccaloni; Luis M. Hernández (2023). HOSTS (from HOSTS – a Database of the World’s Lepidopteran Hostplants) [Data set resource]. Natural History Museum. Link to Hosts Database Website.
  • Guiliani, Derham and Oakley Sheilds. 1998. 1995 migration of Cynthia cardui (L.) (Lep. Nymphalidae) in North America, with special reference to Inyo County, California. Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation 110: 275-282.
  • Guiliani, Derham and Oakley Sheilds. 1997. Migratory activity in Vanessa cardui (Nymphalidae) during 1992 in western North America, with special reference to eastern California. Journal of The Lepidopterist’s Society 51: 256-263.
  • Mason, Silas C. 1913. The Pubescent-fruited Species of Prunus of the Southwestern States. Journal of Agricultural Research 1(2): 147-178.
  • Schuh, Randall T. and Michael D. Schwartz. 2004. New genera, New Species, New Synonyms, and New Combinations in North America and Caribbean Phylinae (Heteroptera: Miridae). Novitates 3436: 36 pp.
  • Stethr, Frederick W. and Edwin F. Cook. 1968. A Revision of the Genus Malacosoma Hubner in North America (Lepidoptera: Lasiocampidae): Systematics, Biology, Immatures, and Parasites. United States National Museum Bulletin 276.
  • Train, Percy, James R. Henrichs, and W. Andrew Archer. 1957. Contributions Toward a Flora of Nevada No. 45, Medicinal Uses of Plants by Indian Tribes of Nevada.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

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