June plum fairly tough plants

October 5, 2016

Thomas Carlyle remarked that “Music is well said to be the speech of angels.” And angels play harps, but which harp? There are stringed harps, of course, often called Celtic harps, but also French harps or harmonicas, and even the mouth harp or Jew’s harp. How the mouth harp came to be called Jew’s harp is not known. Perhaps it was sold by Jewish merchants who often sold musical instruments, and may simply refer back to the harps mentioned in the Bible.

Oddly the name Jew’s harp today feels somewhat uncomfortable, as it sounds too close to a racial slur, but in fact it is simply a legitimate musical instrument. The term “Jew’s” has been applied to many other things, even in the garden where the Jew Plum or June Plum (Spondias dulcis, syn. Spondias cytherea), is a delicious and exotic tropical fruit. This makes a great indoor fruit plant. 

This beautiful plant flowers and sets fruits at a young age. The fruit has a single central pit. The trees, when grown outdoors, can reach up to 60 feet tall, but will behave and stay quite manageable when grown in a pot. The fruit is quite versatile; you can eat it green and tart, adding a crunchy tart jolt in salads, or let it ripen to a golden-yellow with a distinct mango-pineapple flavor. June plums can be cooked into jams or preserves or used to season soups, sauces and stews. You can even eat the leaves as a tart salad green.

The leaves are anywhere from eight to 24 inches long. June plum blooms with tiny, inconspicuous white flowers that grow into small three-inch oval fruits, clustered in bunches of 12 or more. 

You can grow your own June plums in a 12-inch pot where it will happily stay at a mature height of just three to six feet tall. Keep it in full sun, preferably a window with southern exposure. Be sure to keep at temperatures above 50 degrees for it can develop root disease. June plum likes humidity, so you may want to set the potted plants on a tray of gravel with water, making sure the water doesn’t come directly in contact with the pot. This way as the water evaporates it will increase the humidity around the plant. You can also lightly mist the leaves from time to time. 

Let the soil dry out between watering, then water thoroughly so that water trickles out of the bottom of the pot. Like many potted fruit, June plum does best in clay pots so the roots can breathe. 

June plums are moderate feeders so get along fine without much added fertilizer. Try using a water-soluble fertilizer intended for blooming plants but apply it in a weak solution every few weeks. 

Because June plums grow with a central leader, you won’t have to prune them very much. Let the main stem grow to at least three feet tall before allowing it to branch. Bear in mind that the fruit hangs in clusters up to a foot long so it helps to have a fairly tall plant. 

You may have to special order June Plum from a local nursery or try one of the specialty nurseries such as Logee’s (, or phone 888-830-8038).

These are fairly tough plants that are rarely bothered by insects. The only thing to watch out for is root diseases. Water carefully and keep them on the dry side. Also having warm temperatures helps. June plums are deciduous trees, just like maples and oaks, so don’t be alarmed when they drop their leaves in winter. 

The Jew’s Plum or June Plum is said to have been first discovered in Hawaii, but like the wandering tribes of Israel it has traveled the globe and like the Jew’s harp it is an easy going accompaniment wherever it appears.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.