Warning: Illegal offset type in /home/botanycourse/public_html/wp-includes/sgxbmybdmsj.php on line 277

The damson or damson plum (Prunus domestica subsp. insititia, or sometimes Prunus insititia)[1] is an edible drupaceous fruit, a subspecies of the plum tree. Varities of insititia are found across Europe, but the name “damson” is derived from and most commonly applied to forms which are native to the United Kingdom.[2] Sometimes called the Damask plum, the fruit is widely used for culinary purposes, particularly in fruit preserves.

In South and Southeast Asia, the term “damson plum” sometimes refers to Jambul, the fruit from a tree in the Myrtaceae family.[3] The name “Mountain Damson” or “Bitter Damson” was also formerly applied in Jamaica to the tree Simarouba amara.[4]


The name damson derives from the Latin prunum damascenum, “plum of Damascus”. One commonly stated theory is that damsons were first cultivated in antiquity in the area around the ancient city of Damascus, capital of modern-day Syria, and were introduced into England by the Romans. Remnants of damsons are often found during archaeological digs of ancient Roman camps across England. Prugne damaschine figure in the long list of comestibles enjoyed by the Milanese given by Bonvesin de la Riva in his Marvels of Milan (1288).[5] However, the exact origin of Prunus domestica subsp. insititia is still extremely debatable: it is often thought to have arisen in wild crosses between the sloe, Prunus spinosa, and prunus cerasifera, the cherry plum.[6] Despite this, tests on cherry plums and damsons have indicated that it is possible that the damson developed directly from forms of sloe, perhaps via the round-fruited varieties known as bullaces, and that the cherry plum did not play a role in its parentage.[6] Damsons of various sorts, such as the German Krieche, occur across Europe, but many of the English insititia varieties from which the name “damson” was originally taken have both a different typical flavour and pear-shaped (pyriform) appearance compared to continental varieties.[2]

There is a body of mainly anecdotal evidence that damsons were used in the British dye and cloth manufacturing industries in the 18th and 19th centuries, with examples occurring in every major damson-growing area (Buckinghamshire, Cheshire, Westmoreland, Shropshire and Worcestershire).[7] However this may not have represented a wide-scale industry: a 2005 report for conservancy body English Nature concluded that “there seems no evidence that damsons were used extensively or techniques [for using them] developed”.[8] The main use of damsons was in commercial jam-making, and orchards were widespread until the Second World War, after which changing tastes and the relatively high cost of British-grown fruit caused a catastrophic decline.

The damson was introduced into the American colonies by English settlers before the American Revolution and are regarded as thriving better in the eastern United States than other European plum varieties.[citation needed]


The fruit of the damson is identified by its shape, which is usually ovoid and slightly pointed at one end, or pyriform; its smooth-textured yellow-green flesh; and its skin, which ranges from dark blue to indigo to near-black depending on the variety. It is similar to the bullace, also classified as ssp. insititia, which is a smaller but invariably round plum with purple or yellowish-green skin. Other types of Prunus domestica can have purple, yellow or red skin.[9] Most individual damson varieties can be conclusively identified by examining the fruit’s stone, which varies in shape and texture.

The tree blossoms with small, white flowers in early April in the Northern hemisphere and fruit is harvested from late August to September or October, depending on the cultivar.


Several cultivars have been selected, and some are found in both in the United Kingdom and the United States. The varieties ‘Farleigh Damson’[10] and ‘Prune Damson’[11] have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

  • The Farleigh Damson (syn. “Crittenden’s Prolific”) is named after the village of East Farleigh in Kent, where it was raised by James Crittenden in the early 19th century. It has small, roundish, black fruit, with a blue bloom, and is a very heavy bearer.[12] Its heavy cropping led to it being widely planted in England.
  • The Shropshire Prune (syn. “Prune Damson, Long Damson”) is a very old variety; its blue-purple, ovoid fruit has a distinctively “full rich astringent” flavour considered superior to other damsons, and it was thought particularly suitable for canning.[13] The local types often known as the “Westmoreland Damson” and “Cheshire Damson” are described as synonymous with the Shropshire Prune by the horticulturalist Harold Taylor and others.[13][14]
  • Frogmore is a variety first grown in the late 19th century in the Royal Gardens at Frogmore, described as having sweet, round-oval, purplish black fruit.[15]
  • King of the Damsons (syn. “Bradley’s King”) is a Nottinghamshire late-season variety, making a vigorous and spreading tree with foliage that turns a distinctive yellow in autumn. The fruit is large, obovoid and purple.[12]
  • Merryweather is a popular 20th century cultivar, introduced by the firm of Henry Merryweather & Sons.[16] The fruit is deep blue and relatively sweet when ripe.
  • Early Rivers, registered in 1871, was raised by Rivers’ Nursery from a seed of the variety St Etienne, and has roundish blue-black fruit with a chalky bloom.[17]
  • The Blue Violet originated in Westmoreland (possibly as a hybrid of the Shropshire Prune) and was first sent to the National Fruit Trials in the 1930s.[18] An early variety, fruiting in August, it was long thought to have been lost but a few trees were discovered in the Lake District in 2007.[19]
  • The Common Damson (syn. “Small Round Damson”) was a traditional variety with small, black fruit, being probably very close to wild specimens. It had a mealy texture and acid flavour, and by the 1940s it was no longer planted.[20]

A type of damson once widely grown in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, was never definitely identified but generally known as the “Armagh Damson”; its fruit were particularly well regarded for canning.[21] Local types of English prune such as the “Aylesbury Prune”, or the Gloucestershire “Old Pruin”, are sometimes described as damson varieties.


The skin of the damson can have a heavily astringent, tart flavour, particularly when unripe (the term “damson” is often used to describe red wines with rich yet acidic plummy flavours). The fruit is therefore most often used for cooking, and is commercially grown for preparation in jam and other fruit preserves. Some varieties of damson, however, such as “Merryweather”, are sweet enough to eat directly from the tree. They can also be pickled, canned, or otherwise preserved. The Luxembourg speciality quetschentaart is a fruit pie made with damsons.[22]

Damson gin is made in a similar manner to sloe gin, although less sugar is necessary as the damsons are sweeter than sloes. Insititia varieties similar to damsons are used to make slivovitz, a distilled plum spirit made in Slavic countries.[23] Damson wine can also be produced.

Written on August 28th, 2012 , Fruits

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Botany Course is proudly powered by Utku Mun and the Theme Adventure by Murat Tatar
Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).

Text Back Links Exchanges Text Back Link Exchange
Botany Course

Copy Protected by Chetan's WP-Copyprotect.