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Growing Natal Plum: Carissa macrocarpa

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Overview

Natal Plum is a member of the Dogbane family, which includes oleander and periwinkle. It is not related to true Plums, which belong to the Rose family.

Description

Form: Shrub or small tree.
Lifespan: Perennial.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Moderate.
Mature Size: 1-3' high and 3-6' wide, depending on cultivar. In its native region, some varieties grow 18-20' high.
Flowers: White, five narrow, thick waxy petals, 2" diameter, with a fragrance similar to orange blossoms.
Bloom: Spring and summer. In some regions, plants will bloom and display fruit most of the year.
Self-fruitful: Yes. May need hand pollination.
Years before fruiting: 2.
Fruit: Red, plum-shaped, 1-3" diameter, with 6-16 small seeds. The entire fruit is edible when ripe, tasting like sweet cranberries, strawberries or raspberries, depending on the degree of ripeness. There is a latex overtone to the flavor because these plants have not been bred to lose latex from their ripe fruit.
Months for fruit to ripen: 3. The fruit is ripe when it is pink or red, not green, and is slightly soft to the touch. These fruits ripen individually and not all at once. They persist on the plant after ripening.
Storage after harvest: One day at room temperature, no more than one week refrigerated. The fruit does not ripen further once picked.
Leaves: Glossy dark green, thick, oval, smooth margins, overlapping.
Stems: Thornless or Y-shaped double spines, milky latex sap if broken or cut.
Roots: Fibrous, extensive, non-invasive.
Wildlife: Attracts pollinating insects.
Toxic / Danger: All parts, except ripe fruit, are mildly toxic. Spines are present on most cultivars.
Origin: Natal region of South Africa.

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 9b-11. Young plants need protection below 30°F. Established plants survive 25°F.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun to part shade. Most cultivars sold in nurseries today do best in part shade.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Water after becoming established: Monthly to weekly depending on size of fruit crop and temperature. Soil must dry out between waterings.
Soil: Well drained, tolerant otherwise. Does better in pH 6.1-7.5 (slightly acidic to neutral) soil. Tolerant of salinity. Subject to root rot in wet soil.
Fertilize: In soil with low organic content, after first year, apply compost mid to late winter before new growth begins.
Mulch: 1-2" organic material to shade roots from summer heat.
Planting: Can be grown in a container.
First Year Care: Water every day or two to establish an extensive root system. Do not overwater.
Prune: Often pruned into narrow hedge to make fruit more accessible. After last frost, remove any dead or damaged branches. Flowers appear on new growth in spring.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Cuttings, layering, seed. Seeds are variable in germination times and may not breed true.
Uses: Ornamental; edible fruit: raw in salads or cooked into jams and pies. Do not cook in aluminum cookware because of latex particles in fruit. Prostrate varieties are useful as erosion control on mild slopes.

Comments

Former botanical name: Carissa grandiflora. The most common cultivars sold in nurseries are low shrubs and groundcover plants, both with small thorns.


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Natal Plum: Carissa macrocarpa - flowers

Natal Plum: Carissa macrocarpa - fruit

Natal Plum: Carissa macrocarpa


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