Notes from the Natural Dye Pot: Plum Leaves

Electric and deeply connected to the seasons, the plum tree has a fine tuned, sensitive conduit to the temperaments of our changing and challenging seasons.  The plum tree is a native of this landscape although here, in the urban/suburban landscapes of the DC metropolis, most of the plum trees we encounter are hybrids and transplants from points far away.  Our plum tree is not a wild tree. It belongs to the family of a myriad of offspring of purple plums cultivated over years of experimentation with varieties tended and shaped in pre-colonial US, and later cross pollinated with species from Europe and Japan which bare their own culinary traditions (plum brandy and plum wine to name a few).  Our plum tree carries a trajectory and stories which connect it deeply to this place, this landscape–to the people and the plants all about it, to the history of the plum in this country, to the people making conscious changes to the very nature of how plums were grown for use, and to their social and cultural roles. 

Within its exterior expressions the plum tree carries an elasticity and strength despite its vulnerability.  It brings vital color to the landscape, and offers an unusual palette to the dye pot.  It seems to speak of transience, impermanence and almost openly expresses the dilemma of survival in a landscape and climate which is somehow not entirely its own–although tracing its biography, it holds generations of geographically related and perhaps more ecologically compatible, ancestors.


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