x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Plant library: Carissa macrocarpa

This drought- and salt-tolerant shrub produces fragrant, white flowers and tiny pink fruit.

Carissa macrocarpa produces a small fruit. Courtesy iStock Images
Carissa macrocarpa produces a small fruit. Courtesy iStock Images

Natal plum Prized for its drought- and salt-tolerance, glossy, dark green foliage and fragrant, white, jasmine-type flowers that smell like orange blossom in the evening, the low-growing, prostrate Carissa macrocarpa "green carpet" features repeatedly in the UAE's public and commercial landscapes. Used almost exclusively as an architectural ground cover or low, ornamental hedge, it will seldom grow higher than 30 to 40 centimetres with regular and vigorous pruning. However, when it is grown in this way, it seldom produces the soft, tasty and decorative fruit that give this plant its common name, Natal plum. When they do appear, the fruit are about five centimetres long, pink and have a sweet/bitter flavour like a sweet cranberry. They are used to make jams and preserves in the plant's native South Africa.

Unusually for a fruiting shrub or tree, Carissa is virtually pest free and as such is a good choice for organic gardens. Unfortunately, Carissa has sharp thorns, and the leaves contain a poisonous, white, milky sap that can irritate the skin, so care should be taken in both the location and maintenance of this plant. Carissa produces the most flowers when it is grown in full sun. It is able to withstand salty soils and winds, making it perfect for maritime gardens.

For more about the best drought-resistant plants and tips on greening your patch of the desert, visit Nick's Garden.