Prunus cerasifera, commonly known as a Purple Leaf Plum tree or Flowering Ornamental Plum tree, are beautiful in the spring with their bright purple flowers that seem to be among the first to bloom. Their purple leaves stand out all season long. 

These trees have been planted all throughout the Coeur d’Alene area and, if you happen to have one planted in your yard or a right-of-way location such as a grassy sidewalk strip or swale, you may be looking at it with concern, and rightly so. 

Although beautiful, these trees have many issues that led to their removal from the city of Coeur d’Alene approved street tree planting list many years ago. 

These trees were extremely popular as street trees in the early to late ’90s, and there is still a large population of Purple Leaf Plum trees in our urban forest. Some of the fatal flaws that often make them short-lived include:

• These trees are multi-stemmed by nature and have a poor structure. This makes the tree more prone to branch failure and almost always will have splitting trunks within 15-20 years of planting.

• A very shallow root system makes them prone to uprooting in wind events and storms.

• A plethora of diseases and pests target this tree, affecting its canopy and overall health.

To make things short and simple, planting this tree is not recommended. It is also not permitted to be planted in right-of-way locations as street trees. 

This year, you may look at these trees and notice they look dead or have a very weak canopy and, in fact, they may be dead or have a very weak canopy. 

Why? We had a severe cold snap in late winter that appears to have greatly affected this species of tree specifically. Because of their early bloom, these trees appear to have borne the brunt of the damage resulting from the cold snap, resulting in a tree that appears dead or has significant dieback. 

This, combined with some of the other pests and diseases that affect Purple Leaf Plum trees, has caused problems that will need to be addressed. Many trees will need to be removed and replaced. 

Others may need pruning to reduce the amount of dead wood. If you have a tree that is in a condition similar to the tree pictured below, the best course of action is to contact the city of Coeur d’Alene Urban Forestry office for assistance. Our office can assist with identifying the tree, its location (right-of-way or private property), and provide guidance with proper tree care to deal with the issue.

The Urban Forestry Office is working to mitigate issues on city-owned/managed properties. The city, however, does not have a crew that can remove trees for homeowners from their private properties. In addition, by ordinance, homeowners are responsible for trees located in public right-of-way locations abutting their property. 

The city does have a cost share program to assist with tree work costs as well as a tree service licensing program to help you find a company that can perform this work safely and correctly. Before you work on trees in the public right-of-way, you must contact our office. 

No-cost permits are required for all right-of-way tree removals and pruning. If you have a tree you are concerned about or want to report a dead tree or other issue, please contact the city’s Urban Forestry Office by phone 208-769-2266 or via email at [email protected].

— city of Coeur d’Alene