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Growing Natal Plum: Carissa macrocarpa

Botanical Overview

Natal Plum is a member of the Dogbane family (Apocynaceae), which includes oleander and periwinkle. It is not related to true Plums, which are members of 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 jasmine and orange blossoms.
Bloom: Spring and summer. In some regions, plants will bloom and display fruit most of the year.
Self-fruitful: Yes. It 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 do not ripen further once picked.
Leaves: Glossy dark green, thick, oval, smooth margins, often overlapping.
Stems: Thornless or Y-shaped double spines, milky latex sap if broken or cut.
Roots: Fibrous, extensive, non-invasive.
Wildlife: The flowers attract pollinating insects. The fruit attracts birds and mammals in its native region.
Toxic / Danger: All parts, except ripe fruit, are mildly toxic. Spines are present on most cultivars.
Origin: The Natal region of South Africa.

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Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 9b-11. Young plants need protection below 30°F. Established plants survive 25°F. If its roots are well mulched, and this plant dies to the ground in a freeze, it will come back from its roots mid spring.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun to part shade. Most cultivars sold in nurseries today do best in part shade.
Planting: Locate this plant in full sun in well draining soil. It can be grown in a container.
Soil: Well drained, tolerant otherwise. This plant does better in pH 6.1-7.5 (slightly acidic to neutral) soil, and is tolerant of salinity.
Fertilize: In soil with a low organic content, apply organic fertilizer mid to late winter before new growth begins.
Water after becoming established: Deep water weekly to monthly depending on the size of the fruit crop and temperature. Deep water monthly in winter. The soil must dry out between waterings. This plant is subject to root rot in wet soil.
Mulch: Apply organic mulch to shade the root area from summer heat and winter freezes.
First Year Care: Water every day or two to establish an extensive root system. Do not overwater.
Prune: It is often pruned into a narrow hedge to make its fruit more accessible, or to serve as a barrier. After the last frost, remove any dead or damaged branches. Flowers appear on new growth.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Cuttings, layering, seed. Seeds are variable in germination times and may not breed true.
Uses: Ornamental, edible fruit, barrier hedge. The fruit can be used raw in salads or cooked into jams and pies. Cooking removes latex from the fruit, but do not cook in aluminum cookware because the latex particles will adhere to the sides of the pan.
Prostrate varieties are useful as erosion control on mild slopes.

Comments

A former scientific name is Carissa grandiflora.
The most common cultivars sold in nurseries are low shrubs and groundcover plants, both with small thorns.
Another closely related shrub is Carissa carandas: Carandas Plum.


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Natal Plum: Carissa macrocarpa - flowers

Natal Plum: Carissa macrocarpa - fruit

Natal Plum: Carissa macrocarpa


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Latest update: September, 2020