NATAL PLUM - Carissa edulis - Appocynaceae

Donated by: CRFG/Carl Meh/FJC nursery and planted in 1981 (r.f-08)

Common names: Natal plum, Akamba, Agamita, Agam, Agamssa, Adishawel


The plant is a spiny evergreen shrub or small tree that may reach a height of 15 feet and an equal breadth. The plant is a native of South Africa and is widespread in many parts of Africa. The Natal plum was introduced in the United States in the early 1900's, first to Florida and subsequently to California, where it was primarily used as a protective hedge and the fruit
was seen as a welcome by-product.

Each stalk rarely branches and has abundant white milky latex. The bark is gray and smooth, with straight woody double pronged spines, often in pairs. The branched spines arise from lateral buds in the leaf axils and are technically modified stems.

The leaves are opposite, leathery, shiny dark green to 2 inches, tip pointed, base rounded, and the stalk is very short.

The flowers are fragrant in pink-white terminal clusters. Each flower is 5-lobed, tubular and borne singly or a few together. Some plants bear flowers that are functionally male, larger than normal and with larger anthers and stamens than the style. The female flowers have stamens the same length as the style and anthers without pollen.

The fruit or berries are edible. The rounded berry, about half an inch long is green and rich in latex when unripe.(During World War II, soldiers fighting in Africa were told to never eat a plant part that has white latex!) As it ripens, the smooth skin turns to a purple-black. The flesh is tender, very juicy, although a bit sour and tastes like unripe cherries. Unripe fruits taste tart. They contain 2-4 small, thin, flat, brown seeds. Berries are consumed both unripe and ripe. Ripe fruits, when consumed, leave the teeth dark red. The Natal plum is a subtropical to near tropical, enduring temperatures as low as 25 F when well established. Young plants need protection when the temperature drops below 29 F. Best growth is obtained in full sun. The
shrub thrives on dry, rocky hillsides, in clay soils. The plant has moderate drought tolerance and high resistance to soil salinity and salt spray. It cannot stand water logging.

The Natal plum propagates from seeds. Seeds germinate in 2 weeks, but seedlings grow very slowly at first. Vegetative propagation is preferred and can be done easily by air layering, ground layering, or shield budding.

Natal plum flowers and fruits all year. The peak period for blooming and fruiting is May through September. The 5-pointed calyx remains attached to the plant when the fruit is picked. The fruits are made into jellies, sauces and pies.