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Chickasaw Plum for Wildlife in Oklahoma

Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia), also called sand plum, occurs in at least 27 states, ranging from Nebraska to New Jersey on the north and from New Mexico to Florida on the south. California also has sand plum, though it distribution is broken by Arizona and Nevada. The plant occurs throughout Oklahoma except for the two westernmost counties in the Panhandle; it has limited occurrence in the southeastern quarter of the state.

 

Native American tribes, including the Pawnee, Kiowa, Lakota, Crow, and Assiniboin, used plum for food and medicine (Gilmore 1977). The Teton Dakota Tribe of Nebraska used young sprouts in a healing ceremony. The Omaha, Sac, Fox, and Cheyenne used the boiled root bark to treat canker sores and diarrhea (Youngken 1924, Smith 1932).

 

In Oklahoma, Chickasaw plum plays many roles. To the cattleman, it competes with forage grasses and perhaps limits grazing capacity for livestock but it also provides shade for livestock, which can increase animal performance in summer (Figure 3). To the wildlife manager, it provides cover (thermal, protective, nesting) for shrubland species (birds, small mammals, deer) but takes away usable space from species that require grassland free of woody cover. The fruits of plum are foods for many wildlife species, such as raccoons (Procyon lotor) and coyotes (Canis latrans), and their scats with plum seeds attract sugar-feeding butterflies such as the goatweed leafwing (Anaea andria).

 

Recognizing the important roles played by Chickasaw plum in Oklahoma, the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Oklahoma State University, undertook a multi-year study (2006 to 2010) of plum and associated wildlife. Specific projects dealt with methods of establishing plum; growth rates of roots, stems, and thickets; use by birds in both the breeding season and winter; effects of plum on site occupancy by small mammals; and response to fire. We present selected results from these studies and related work in this paper.

 

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