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Lush foliage hides oddly branched thorns.

The very glossy and richly deep green foliage seem to be so soft and luxuriant. Simple bright white flowers enhance the appeal. However, closer examination of Natal plum, Carissa macrocarpa, reveals impressively nasty thorn structures that are doubly branched into pairs of paired rigid and sharp thorns. That is four thorns each!

To make matters worse, all parts of Natal plum that are not fruit are toxic. But hey, they all work together to be visually appealing, even if really unfriendly. The one or two inch long evergreen leaves are quite round and stiff. The star shaped flowers that bloom as long as the weather is warm are somewhat fragrant in the evening.

Some varieties of Natal plum can reach the eaves, but most stay lower. They do not need much water, and can tolerate a bit of shade. The rosy red fruit would be delightfully colorful if it were not so rare. Manual pollination, preferably with a different pollinator, produces more of the two inch long berries that are something like mildly flavored cranberries.

8 thoughts on “Natal Plum

    1. Those that are grown here are just ornamentals, but there might be some in some old gardens that were grown primarily for fruit. I met one in an old garden once that seemed to be a bit more productive than those that I am familiar with. If I wanted a cultivar that is grown more specifically for fruit, I would need to find it online.

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  1. These look really lovely. Thorns aside. But what I was struck by was macrocarpa as in Quercus macrocarpa. I always thought that referred to the wild cap on the acorn from that tree (large cap?) Is the fruit on these distinctive or large?

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      1. Supposedly. ‘Carpa’ actually translates into ‘megalomaniac’ or something like that, so is not relevant to seed. I really do not know how it got that meaning. Furthermore, the Natal plum and other species with that name do not produce particularly large seeds. It is probably more relevant to the fruit containing the seed. I suspect that Natal plum has larger fruit than other species of the genus, just like Monterey cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa, has bigger cones than other cypress.

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  2. I remember the first time I learned this genus name, Carissa, I instantly found it beautiful! 🙂 I think that was due to the natal plums growing (or formerly growing?) in the shopping center along Los Gatos Blvd where Trader Joe’s is. Very rare coincidence: I later made not one, but two friends named Carissa! (One without the extra “s”). I’ve always been curious to sample the “plum” fruit but haven’t seen any.

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    1. It is not as good as real plums, but some people really dig it. There are actually cultivars that are grown more for fruit production than for their ornamental quality. They are more popular in Florida than they are here.

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