The purpleleaf sandcherry, Prunus ×cistena, was first released in 1910 by N.E. Hansen at the South Dakota Agricultural Research Station (Jacobson, 1992). This hybrid was the result of a cross between Prunus pumila var. besseyi (syn. Prunus besseyi), a cold hardy shrub of North America, and Prunus cerasifera var. atropurpurea (cherry plum or myrobalan plum), a native of western Asia and the Caucasus (Dirr, 2009; Jacobson, 1992). P. pumila var. besseyi is variable, with a plant height ranging from 60 cm for P. pumila var. besseyi ‘P011S’ Pawnee Buttes® to 150 cm for ‘Hansens’ (aka ‘Hansen’s Bush Cherry’). Judging from the height of P. ×cistena, it is likely that one of the taller forms of var. besseyi was used as a parent in Hansen’s cross that first created P. ×cistena. Most of the P. ×cistena in the horticultural trade is probably the original clone introduced by Hansen in 1910, although cultivars exist, such as Big Cis and Minnesota Red.
Prunus ×cistena reaches 2 to 3 m tall, produces single pink flowers in April to May, and has bright-red foliage that emerges in the spring and stays fairly red through the summer (Dirr, 2009). This hybrid appears to be mostly sterile, but can produce occasional small, dark-purple to black fruit. P. ×cistena is hardy to the warmer parts of U.S. Department of Agriculture zone 3 and can be grown to zone 7 (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, 2012). Purpleleaf sandcherry is propagated easily from softwood cuttings and has several landscaping uses that include small groupings, as a patio plant, as a focal-point shrub, for flowering effect, for purple-red foliage, or as a foundation plant.
Prunus ×cistena is typically sold as a 2- to 3-gal container plant, but it grows to a mature size that is too large for many landscapes into which it has been installed. It has an upright growth habit, does not produce basal branches, and plants become open at the base and develop a “leggy” form. Furthermore, without regular pruning back of branches, the usual form of P. ×cistena tends to develop branches that flop over with age. Too often, P. ×cistena is purchased and installed in landscapes at a small size, but then grows too large for its intended use and space.
‘UCONNPC001’ purpleleaf sandcherry is a new cultivar of P. ×cistena that is superior to the original P. ×cistena primarily by being more compact both in height and width. In addition, ‘UCONNPC001’ has a mounded form, with a dense habit and many basal branches, resulting in plants that are full at the bottom, unlike P. ×cistena, which can develop a “leggy” base.