Thursday, December 27, 2012

Carissa macrocarpa (natal plum)

Carissa macrocarpa (syn. C. grandiflora) is a very attractive shrub that bears edible fruits. It is sometimes called natal plum, but it is not a plum, belonging instead to the Apocynaceae family.
Very fragrant white blooms appear near the stem tips whenever the plant is in growth. The fragrance doesn't carry far, so it's best enjoyed up close. Individual flower are five-petaled and about 2 inches across. Pollinated flowers are followed by 1-3 inch long reddish fruits.
When the fruit turns dark red, starts to soften, and gives slightly under gentle pressure, it's time to pluck it off and pop it in your mouth. Even fully ripe fruits have a slightly milky sap, but it is undetectable when eaten whole.
Each fruit contains a few small brown seeds that are soft enough to chew or swallow. The chewed seeds do detract somewhat from the cranberry/raspberry/strawberry flavor, so I usually swallow them whole or spit them out.
The plant can be relatively slow growing, but eventually reaches 8 feet. Branching often takes on a layered look, and the stems have a cluster of sharp spines at each leaf node.
The 2-inch diameter rounded, leathery leaves are very dark green and have a glossy sheen.
The entire plant exudes a milky sap when injured. Some low-growing and thornless cultivars exist that are used commercially as groundcovers.
Carissa macrocarpa is native to South Africa and will grow in sun or shade. It is drought-tolerant and resistant to salt spray, making it popular on oceanfront properties. It is recommended for USDA Zones 9B-11.