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What’s Blooming in Paradise: Plant Subject: Carissa (Carissa macrocarpa)

By Staff | Nov 10, 2010

First impression: Shiny, deep dark green leaves are an eye-catching backdrop to the twinkling star-like white flowers. Wow, what an intense fragrance of orange blossom mixed with gardenia. Look out! the closely spaced leaves are hiding small spines on the branches. These thick leaves ooze a white milky sap when broken. Large fruit (2 inches), in varying shades of ripeness, are being protected by the thorns. But, ahhh, the fragrance is the worth the sniff! Take a deep breath and partake the scent of this unique bloom at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: Carissa is considered a great addition to your coastal garden. It adds a dark green compact shape with lots of grit against strong winds and salt spray. Its dense foliage makes it a good screen, and its thorns make it a stay away barrier as well. It can be pruned to any size. Patience is the key because of its slow growth, it’s a great plant to grow and shape as your garden grows with time. Considered a medium sized shrub, our tallest one is about 12 feet tall. Nowadays, more cultivars are available to us in dwarf sizes, horizontal ground covers, thornless, and with spiral flowers. The fragrant tiny flowers are cameo white and pack an olfactory wallop of fragrance,which intensifies at night. Take a flower and rub it on your wrists… oohh! The flowers are a super pollinator attractor; everyone takes advantage of the nectar. Remember I mentioned large fruits? They are edible! Natal plums start out green then turn a reddish crimson hue when ripe. To me, they taste very tart and remind me of cranberries. Like most tart fruits, can be transformed into unique pies, jams, jellies, and sauces. One drawback of our star is that the tasty plum is the only plant part that is not poisonous. Like many plants of the Carissa species, the white milky sap of the leaves can make you ill. Wear gloves, wash your hands, and never ingest this ooze, it has a highly-toxic quality. You will appreciate this plant’s easy nature and lack of pests and disease. The mature plants occasionally will get a branch area that turns completely black and necrotic, just prune away. Made for our tropical climate, easy care, drought tolerant, and can take full sun. It is a non-native species, which hails from the South of Africa where it is grown as an edible crop.

Pros: Bloomer & fruiter at the same time, does well in sandy soil, likes full sun, great as a stay-away barrier, easy to maintain/prune, slow grower, coastal shrub, pollinator attractor, salt tolerant, adds a dark green backdrop to your garden, save on expensive perfumes: rub all over your body, easy care, add a new jelly to your repertoire, intoxicating fragrance.

Cons: Be careful with sap, slow grower, pollinator attractor, non native, spiny– ouch!, neighbors may be stealing fruit when you’re not looking.

Conclusion: Blooms of cameo white starry flowers, that fill the night with a twinkling fragrance. Follow your nose to our garden in paradise. Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!