Yum, yum for the wild Chickasaw plum

Driving to Athens on Georgia 316 last week, I kept glancing at the many Chickasaw plum thickets sporting their shimmering white blossoms along the highway. A small, native tree, the Chickasaw plum grows wild across Georgia in dense thickets along roadsides and fencerows and in old fields and other open, sunny areas.

Seeing the thickets in bloom last week evoked fond boyhood memories for me. When I was growing up on Johns Island, S.C., near Charleston, our old farm sparkled with blooming wild plum thickets in early March. In June and July, the little red (sometimes yellow) plums ripened — as sweet and delicious as the best quality cultivated plums sold in supermarkets.

The only downside was that the wild plums were much smaller than the store-bought kind.

But that never bothered me. In early summer, I crawled on hands and knees through the plum thickets to pluck the sweet fruits. I crawled because it was nearly impossible to walk through the dense tangles of thorny limbs and twigs.

I mostly had the thickets to myself — most of my young friends swore that plum thickets were prime haunts of rattlesnakes and would not venture into them. The only things I ever suffered, though, were scratches and chigger bites.

As I made my way through a thicket, I popped the plucked plums right into my mouth. Many times I also dragged a one-gallon bucket, which I quickly filled with the plums. Then, I would take the load up to my mama.

Mama made some of the sweetest wild plum jelly in South Carolina. When it was spread on her hot, handmade buttered biscuits, it was food worthy of a great chef.

Humans are not the only creatures that like Chickasaw plums. The wild fruits also are a valuable food source for wildlife — birds, deer, bears, raccoons, squirrels and others. Georgia also has two other wild plum species, American plum and Flatwoods plum, though neither, in my mind, produce fruit nearly as desirable as the Chickasaw.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon is in last quarter. Venus and Mercury are low in the west just after dark. Jupiter rises in the east just before midnight. Mars and Saturn rise in the east about an hour after midnight. Saturn will appear near the moon tonight.