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Growing the Natal Plum

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Overview of Natal Plum:

The natal plum is a beautiful tropical shrub. Like Indian hawthorn, I saw it used frequently in commercial landscapes. The pretty white flowers are star-shaped and fragrant, producing edible red fruit. The rest of the plant is toxic.

Latin Name:

This shrub is classified as Carissa macrocarpa and is a member of the Apocynaceae (dogbane)family. You may also see it listed as Carissa grandiflora.

You may also be familiar with star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), mandevilla (Mandevilla spp.), oleander (Nerium oleander), periwinkles (Vinca major and Vinca minor), wax plants (Hoya spp.) and frangipani (Plumeria spp.)

Common Names:

This can be called natal plum, big num-num, Amatungulu or grootnoem-noem.

Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones:

Choose this shrub if you are in Zones 9-11. Zone 9 shrubs will do better if protected from the winters. They may fall prey to winter chills and freezes but will regrow in the spring. It originally comes from Natal, South Africa, naturally inspiring the common name.

Size & Shape of Natal Plum:

This shrub is usually 2-8' tall, but can be over 20' tall depending on the variety you choose to plant.

Exposure:

You can grow your natal plum in a location that receives full sun for the best results. If your location is part sun it will still be able to grow, though it will likely not have as many flowers and fruit.

Foliage/Flowers/Fruit of the Natal Plum:

The ovate leaves are dark green with a glossy sheen. They are usually 1-3" long and are formed along the branch in an opposite arrangement.

If you have smelled orange blossoms, you know what natal plum flowers smell like. The two plants have very similar scents. Each flower features five waxy petals arranged in a star shape.

You can eat the red fruit fresh or make them into jams, pies, tarts, syrups, pickles, sauces or jellies. They will be bitter with lots of latex if eaten while unripe.

Design Tips For the Natal Plum:

This shrub does have sharp spines, so it can work well as a barrier or hedge.

Be cautious when planting this in a household with pets or children. The fruit is the only part of the plant that is not poisonous.

If you want a small variety that is 2' tall or under, look for 'Nana', 'Prostrata', 'Bonsai', 'Boxwood Beauty' or 'Horizontalis'. 'Nana' and 'Boxwood Beauty' also have the advantage of no thorns.

If you live near the ocean, you can safely plant a natal plum since they are quite tolerant of salty conditions.

Growing Tips For the Natal Plum:

For best results, plant this in sandy soil that drains well, as this will help naturally deter root rots.

If you have planted a specific variety, you would need to take cuttings to ensure the characteristics stayed the same. If you have a regular species shrub, you can collect and plant the seeds.

Maintenance/Pruning:

You can create a tree form or hedge through pruning. Trimming will also prompt the shrub to produce more flowers and fruit. You may need to prune it if close to a sidewalk so that pedestrians do not get stuck by the spines.

Use a fertilizer that has equal parts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. This will help the shrub in general health and fruiting.

Pests & Diseases of the Natal Plum:

You should not have many pest problems with this shrub. You may see Florida red scale (Chrysomphalus aonidum.) It does not do well with wet feet or overwatering and may fall prey to root rots in these situations.

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