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Products > Capparis spinosa var. inermis
Capparis spinosa var. inermis - Caper Bush
Image of Capparis spinosa var. inermis
[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Shrub
Family: Capparaceae (Capers)
Origin: Greece (Europe)
Flower Color: White
Bloomtime: Spring
Synonyms: [C. spinosa var. orientalis, C. orientalis]
Height: 2-3 feet
Width: 3-4 feet
Exposure: Full Sun
Seaside: Yes
Summer Dry: Yes
Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 10-15° F
Capparis spinosa var. inermis (Caper Bush) - A semi-deciduous (evergreen in our climate) sprawling shrub with large swollen roots and long trailing basal stems bearing semi-succulent medium-green heart-shaped leaves that often have a bronze or reddish tinge when newly emerging. The flower buds (the edible caper) begin to appear in late spring and often continue to late summer. The buds open at dawn and close late in the afternoon as delicately scented 2 1/2 inch wide pinkish-white flowers that are adorned with long lavender stamens and last for only a single day.

Caper bushes thrive when planted in lean well-drained soil in a hot sunny location with little or no water. Although appreciative of some summer irrigation in well-drained soil, a sure way to kill the caper bush is to over water it or plant it in too heavy a soil. Tip growth can be damaged by temperatures in the mid 20s° F but plants are root hardy down to at least 18 °F. A simple rule of thumb is that the caper bush should be able to grow where an olive tree will grow. As an ornamental plant caper bushes can be an attractive somewhat loose growing groundcover that spills over a wall, a specimen small shrub or can be used as an espalier, which presents the flower buds well for picking. The caper bush is salt-tolerant and will flourish in gardens along the shore within sea-spray zones. As flowers are born on first-year branches, one can cut back plants annually in the late fall or winter without sacrificing flowering. It is not necessary to do this trimming but it can make it a lushier and bushier more compact plant - one 30 year old unpruned plant in our nursery garden is over 10 feet across.

Capparis spinosa has long been thought to be native to the Mediterranean region of southern Europe but its range extends through northeastern Africa, Madagascar, western and central Asia south to Australia and Oceania. It is a type of plant called an archaeophyte, which is a plant introduced to a wide area during ancient times, so its precise origin is difficult to determine. The name for the genus is the Latin name given to the plant and is derived from the Greek 'kápparis' whose origin is unknown but is possibly derived from an Asian name or from the island of Cyprus where the Caper Bush in abundant. The typical form of Capparis spinosa has stipular spines, as the specific epithet would imply, but the varietal form we grow lacks these spines and has long been called Capparis spinosa var. rupestris and later called Capparis spinosa var. inermis. More recently this taxon has been synonymized with Capparis spinosa subsp. orientalis or raised to the specific level as Capparis orientalis. Other common names include Caper, Caperberry or Caperbush.

The Caper Bush has a long history of being cultivated; Capers were noted as being a marketable commodity in ancient Greece by the Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides in the first century of the Common Era (C.E.) and their use was mentioned during that same period by the Roman scholar, Pliny the Elder. There have also been discoveries at archaeological sites in Syria, Iran and Israel that indicate the buds and fruits plants were use as early as 7,100 Before Common Era (B.C.E). In this many millennia of use, a simple rule for cultivation of Caper Bush has developed and that is to give plants a similarly harsh condition as it would grow in naturally. The immature flower buds are cured to become the capers used as a garnish or ingredient in Mediterranean dishes (such as Chicken Piccata!), the young shoots pickled or cooked and the pickled unripe fruit, called Caperberries, are eaten as a vegetable. The plants we sell are grown from seed from our stock plants that originated from cuttings taken in the early 1980s from plants growing in Franceschi Park, a city park on the Riviera area of Santa Barbara. When Dr. Francesco Franceschi (Emanuele Orazio Fenzi) arrived in Santa Barbara in 1895 he found that Kinton Stevens was already cultivating this plant at his estate, which would eventually become the famous Ganna Walska Lotusland Botanic Garden. None of the plants grown in Santa Barbara region at that time had stipular spines and were then called Capparis spinosa var. rupestris. We have grown and sold this attractive and useful plant since 1983. 

This information about Capparis spinosa var. inermis displayed is based on research conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens we have visited, as well how the crops have performed in containers in our nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share any cultural information that would aid others in growing it.