Capparis spinosa

Flower
Common Name: caper 
Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Capparaceae
Native Range: Southern Eurasia, Australia
Zone: 8 to 10
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Spread: 3.00 to 6.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to September
Bloom Description: White with purple stamens
Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Medium
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Leaf: Evergreen
Fruit: Showy, Edible
Other: Winter Interest, Thorns
Tolerate: Rabbit, Deer, Drought, Dry Soil, Shallow-Rocky Soil

Culture

Easily grown in lean, well-drained, dry to medium moisture soils in full sun. Thrives in areas with poor, dry, rocky or sandy soils in hot sun. Intolerant of shade. Established plants require little watering. Avoid overwatering. Plants will not survive winter when temperatures dip below 18 degrees F.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Capparis spinosa, commonly called caper bush, is a scrambling, sprawling, spiny, evergreen shrub that typically grows to 3’ tall, but spreads by semi-prostrate branching to as much as 6-10’ wide. It is native to somewhat hostile growing conditions including sandy or gravelly soils, rocky hillsides, cliffs, stone walls and rock crevices in Mediterranean coastal regions (southern Europe, Middle East and northern Africa) and from southwestern Asia to the Black Sea extending eastward to the Himalayas, Pacific Islands and northern Australia. The unopened flower buds of this shrub are picked and preserved in salt or pickled in vinegar as the culinary capers which are now enjoyed world-wide as garnishes or as pungent flavor additives to a large number of foods including sauces, butters, salads, fish, meats, pizza toppings and hors d’oeuvres. Capers commercially harvested for human consumption come primarily from plants growing in southern Spain, France, Italy and Algeria. Culinary use of capers extends back in history at least 2500 years.

Attractive white-petaled flowers (2-3” across) with pale purple stamens bloom on long pedicils rising from the leaf axils. Flowers only last one day, but bloom profusely from May to early autumn. The unopened buds of these flowers are the capers. Flower buds are picked prior to opening when still tight, washed in salt water to remove grit, dried, and finally salted down or pickled in vinegar. Buds are often picked daily because the youngest buds have the best quality. Unpicked buds open to flowers which are followed by oblong, multi-seeded, edible fruits known as caperberries. Caperberries and young shoots with leaves may also be picked and pickled. Small, round to ovate, dark green, semi-succulent leaves (to 2” long) are evergreen. Leaf stipules on species plants develop a pair of sharp hooked spines at the base of each leaf petiole. Hands are easily scratched when harvesting capers and clothing may catch on the hooked spines when brushing up against a shrub.

Genus name comes from kapparis which is the ancient Greek name for the caper bush.

Specific epithet is in reference to the stipular spines.

Garden Uses

Interesting flowering shrub for dry sunny areas of the landscape. Source of culinary capers. Infrequently grown in U.S. gardens.