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Scientific: Carissa macrocarpa (Synonym: C. grandiflora)
Common: Natal plum, large num-num
Family: Apocynaceae
Origin: South Africa

Pronounciation: Ka-RIS-sa ma-cro-CAR-pa

Hardiness zones:
12-13, 16-24
USDA 9-11

Landscape Use: Foundation plant, entryway plant, informal hedge, barrier plant, ground cover, filler, formal edging spring flowering accent, raised landscape planters, mesic, oasis, and oriental landscape design themes in Phoenix. Natal plum dwarf cultivars have the highest landscape use potential in today's world of smaller, more compact, landscape spaces.

Form & Character: Variable form depending on cultivar. Overall, a shrubby, rounded form ranging from prostrate to upright to spherical to flattened and spreading, thick, tough.

Growth Habit: Evergreen woody shrub, slow to vigorous depending on cultivar ranging in height from 18 inches to 10 feet.

Foliage/Texture: Leaves are medium to dark green, generally rounded to oval shape w/ mucronate (pointed, spine-like) tip, leathery, glabrous, margins entire. All plant parks produce a white latex that might be a skin irritant to some people. Stems at axillary meristems have a "forked" pair of stipular spines; medium coarse texture.

Flowers & Fruits: White, fragrant star-shaped (5 petals) flower to 2 inches early to mid spring, aromatic jasmine fragrance; fruits are rounded and green when immature, ripening in later summer and fall to a light red to burgundy color, oblong, generally between 1 and 2 inches in length. Ripe natal plum fruit are edible, having a tasty sweet yet tart cranberry taste.

Seasonal Color: White flowers in early to mid spring, usually in early April in Phoenix.

Temperature: Reddish-purple leaves in winter due to chilling injury, foliage injured below 26oF. Generally heat loving, but prone to heat stress above 110oF and sudden death of branches during the high heat of Phoenix summers when air temperatures rise to and exceed 118oF. Reddened winter foliage will quickly re-green in spring.

Light: Sun and shade, sun best, sparse in shade.

Soil: Tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions from clay to sandy, though will develop micronutrient related chlorosis if pH exceeds 8.

Watering: In Phoenix, natal plum is a surprisingly drought tolerant shrub once established. For best performance, apply deep, regular irrigations in the summer, but irrigate on a far less regular basis during winter.

Pruning: Easily pruned to shape.

Propagation: Cutting

Disease and Pests: Slow-growing cultivars are more subject to fungal root rot if soil drainage is poor; otherwise, natal plum is mostly disease and pest free.

Additional comments: Overall, natal plum is a versatile, drought- and salt-tolerant shrub. There are many cultivars for landscape use in the desert Southwest, most are dwarf and semi-dwarf and are problem free. Natal plum will take a surprising amount of neglect in the landscape, thus I consider it to be a low maintenance landscape shrub.

Some of the many popular natal plum cultivars include:

Facts for foodies: Natal plum is a traditional food plant in South Africa because of the highly nutritious, edible fruits. Ripen fruits can be eaten fresh or made into pies, jams, jellies, and sauces.