Garden Oracle / Drought and Heat Tolerant Gardening / Tucson - Phoenix - Arizona - California

Growing Capparis spinosa:
Caper Bush

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Description
Form: A low, mounding shrub.
Lifespan: Approximately 30 productive years.
Leaf retention: Evergreen but cold-deciduous.
Growth rate: Rapid.
Mature Size: 2-3' high and 6' wide.
Flowers: Four white petals, many long, pink to purple stamens, one stigma higher than the stamens, and fragrant. The flower buds, called capers, are edible but need processing to remove bitterness.
Bloom: Flowers are produced continuously between late spring and late summer. Each flower lasts less than one day.
Fruit: A small, oblong berry that turns red, then bursts open, displaying moist pulp embedded with 30-40 small, brown seeds. The berries, if not grown for seed, are edible but need to be cooked or pickled to remove their bitterness.
Leaves: Green, oval with a slight point, fleshy, on red stems, with two small, curved thorns at the base of each leaf. Some cultivars are thornless. Young leaves and stems are edible.
Stems: Red to green.
Roots: This plant has extensive, deep roots.
Wildlife: The flowers attract bees, hawkmoths and other pollinating insects.
Toxic / Danger: Not toxic to humans or pets. Small thorns may be present.
Origin: Mediterranean. Capers have been in use for at least 10,000 years.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 8b-11. The plant dies to the ground in freezing temperatures and its roots die at 18°F.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun. This plant does poorly in shade.
Planting: Caper Bush grows on rocks and in hilly, rocky soil. It needs a very dry summer environment and grows better in a high crevice on a rock wall than in a container unless the container is very well drained. The rocky spaces it prefers are the equivalent of a raised garden bed.
It may be necessary, during summer and fall, to grow this plant under a clear plastic panel that keeps out all water and rain but allows free air flow.
Space the plants 7-9' apart if used for caper production.
Soil: Very well drained, dry, low in organic content. This plant is salt tolerant. Fertilization is unnecessary.
Water after becoming established: Deep water once a month except during the four hottest months when it should receive no water or rain. It does not like summer rain and easily dies from being overwatered. In its native region, rain occurs mostly in winter and spring.
Mulch: Use rock or stone mulch only, in the first year only, when freezing temperatures are predicted.
Prune: Remove dead wood in winter, but do not prune in the first year. Flower buds occur on one year old branches. Heavy pruning of old branches improves productivity.
Litter: The entire plant may die to the ground during a freeze.
Propagation: Fresh seed sprout easily but dried seed have a low germination rate. To germinate dried seeds: [1] Place them in warm water for 12 hours, allowing the water to cool naturally to room temperature. [2] Fold them into a moist paper towel, seal the towel in a plastic freezer bag, and refrigerate for 2-3 months. [3] Remove from the refrigerator and soak in water as in step one. [4] Plant the seeds in small pots with seed starter soil and keep the soil moist in a warm, daytime bright environment. They should sprout within 1-3 months. A seed starter kit with a timed grow lamp and a heater pad (if necessary) is ideal for this stage. [5] Transplant the seedlings outside when they are 3-5" tall, adding mycorrhizal fungi to the soil. If seedlings are crowded in the pot, cut off the weaker seedlings at the ground using scissors. Do not pull seedlings out because that will damage roots of the others. [6] Transition the seedlings to their new, hot and dry environment by providing shade and moisture at first, then gradually withdrawing shade and moisture as the plant adjusts. Seedlings will not flower for 1-4 years, depending on the cultivar.
This plant can be grown from both softwood and hardwood cuttings. Hardwood cuttings should be at least 1/4" in diameter. Softwood cuttings must be from the base of the stem. Rooting solution is recommended. The success rate of cuttings is 50-70%. Cuttings may take 1-3 years to flower.
Uses: The unopened flower buds, berries, and young leaves are pickled in salt or vinegar, to remove bitterness, and used as seasoning or a garnish. The flavor of the pickled flower buds (capers) has been described as mustard with black pepper. Young leaves and stems are also boiled and eaten.
This xeric plant is also used to prevent soil erosion. It can be used as an ornamental plant hanging from a rock wall or other structure.

Comments
This plant is a member of the Caper family (Capparaceae). Another name is Flinders Rose.
It is quite variable in appearance and behavior, and there is no scientific agreement over its number of subspecies. Many cultivars (cultivated varieties) have been developed, and those without spines are most widely used.
Thriving in very hot, arid climates, and in very poor soil, it can be killed by overwatering or summer rain.



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Capparis spinosa, Caper flower

By Daniel Capilla - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid-50643076

By Donkey shot - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid-21276009

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Latest update: August, 2021