Opata Cherry-plum- Zone 2
Characteristics of the tree
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The fruit of the Opata cherry-plum resembles a plum far more than it does a cherry, but is smaller than most plums. It measures 3 cm in diameter on average, with an attractive red/green exterior and yellowish-green flesh. The flesh is freestone and its texture is firm, but juicy. Its flavour is very pleasant and sweet, with only a hint of acidity. Overall, Opata is generally considered one of the best-tasting of existing cherry-plum varieties: it makes a great dessert out of the hand and is decent for preserves. The fruit is ready for harvest in mid to late August, and like most stone fruits, does not store for very long.
Opata cherry-plum tree grows as a relatively low and spreading shrub, generally manifesting a rounded form and forming multiple stems. It is a vigorous grower and can be expected to bear fruit within about two years of plantation. The cherry-plum is also exceptionally hardy, thriving in climates as harsh as zone 2a, and its lifespan is about 30 years. It is self-sterile, and will require either a Canada plum (Prunus nigra) or another cherry-plum such as Manor in order to set fruit. If you have a western sandcherry (Prunus besseyi) at home, this may also work as a pollinator. Note that American plum trees or their hybrids will not pollinate a cherry-plum.
Opata was developed by Dr. N. E. Hansen at South Dakota State University, where he was Professor of Horticulture from 1895 to 1950.
Opata was the result of a cross between Prunus besseyi (Western sandcherry) and Prunus salicina ‘Gold’. Dr. Hansen was one of the first to make crosses between these two species, producing the still-beloved cultivar ‘Sapa’ as well as ‘Opata.’ Born in 1866 in Denmark, but spending most of his life in the United States, Hansen was one of the most important plant breeders and horticulturalists of the early 20th Century. He was responsible for selecting and breeding many new hardy types of grain as well as fruit trees. One of his discoveries was the ‘Dolgo’ crab apple, which he brought back from one of several journeys to Siberia.
The photo on the right shows Dr. Hansen inspecting some shrubs for his plant breeding work. It comes from South Dakota State University Archives and Special Collections, H. M. Briggs Library, and is reproduced with their permission and much thanks. Original image here.