875 Carissa macrocarpaCommon Names: Natal plum Family: Apocynaceae (dogbane Family)
Natal plum is a dense, closely branched spiny evergreen shrub or small tree up to 20 ft (6.1 m) in height. Most of the cultivated forms are much smaller, though. The dark glossy green leaves are ovate, 1-3 in (2.5-7.6 cm) long, thick and leathery, and arranged in opposing pairs. Forked spines, about 1-2 in (2.5-5.1 cm) long, arm the branches and the ends of the twigs. Broken twigs exude a white milky sap. Natal plum produces an abundance of white starlike flowers with five thick and waxy petals. The flowers are about 2 in (5.1 cm) across and sweetly fragrant, like orange blossoms, especially at night. The edible fruit is a pretty plum shaped red berry abut 2 in (5.1 cm) long which tastes like sweet cranberries. Natal plum blooms almost all year long and most of the time both flowers and fruit are present.
'Bonsai' grows in a compact mound only 2 ft (0.6 m) tall. 'Prostrata' and 'Horizontalis' (Natal creeper) are low growing cultivars suitable for ground covers. 'Boxwood Beauty' is a thornless dwarf. 'Nana' is a thornless dwarf bearing flowers with spirally overlapping petals. There are many more named selections to choose from.
Natal plum, Carissa macrocarpa, is native to the Northern South African province of KwaZulu/Natal. It is a popular hedge plant, widely cultivated in the New and Old World tropics.
CultureNatal plum prefers a sandy, well-drained soil. It responds well to close pruning and is easily kept at any size. Many of the cultivars have a tendency to produce branches that revert to the species characteristics, so it may be necessary to prune frequently to prevent the cultivar from reverting completely. Light: Natal plum does best and produces the most flowers when positioned in full sun, but it tolerates partial shade. Moisture: Natal palm is drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. In zone 9 winters, Natal plum may freeze to the ground, but it usually comes back in spring. Propagation: Propagate the cultivars of Natal plum from cuttings. The species may be grown from seed.
Natal plum is the perfect hedge plant. Its dense foliage makes it a good screen, and its thorns make it an effective barrier as well. Add on the deliciously fragrant blossoms and edible fruits, and it's hard to think of a better shrub for the tropical garden. Plant the larger cultivars on 5 ft (1.5 m) centers for hedges and the smaller cultivars on 4 ft (1.2 m) centers for foundation plantings. Natal plum is tolerant of salty soil as well as salt spray and is therefore an excellent plant for the seaside garden, even in exposed conditions. The dwarf cultivars can be grown as container plants. Keep them outside in summer, and in a well-lit, cool and dry position in winter. Sprawling cultivars can be used as ground covers, planted on 2 ft (0.6 m) centers. The fruits are made into jellies and preserves.
The various cultivars of Natal plum are among the best ocean front foundation, hedge, container and groundcover plants for tropical and subtropical regions. They are very popular in South Florida. Natal plums are often grown in containers on ocean front condominium balconies. Their thick leathery leaves are not torn by wind nor bothered by salt spray.
All parts of Natal plum are poisonous except for the ripe fruits. Even the seeds within the fruits are said to be poisonous. Natal plum should not be planted close to pedestrian traffic because of its sharp spines.
Steve Christman 12/4/00; updated 11/9/03