Common Names: Natal plum
Family: Apocynaceae (dogbane Family)
tree Shrub Drought Tolerant Can be Grown in Containers Edible Plant
Has evergreen foliage Flowers Fragrant
Natal plum is a dense, closely branched spiny evergreen shrub or
small tree up to 20 ft (6.1 m) in height. Most of the cultivated
forms are much smaller, though. The dark glossy green leaves are
ovate, 1-3 in (2.5-7.6 cm) long, thick and leathery, and arranged in
opposing pairs. Forked spines, about 1-2 in (2.5-5.1 cm) long, arm
the branches and the ends of the twigs. Broken twigs exude a white
milky sap. Natal plum produces an abundance of white starlike
flowers with five thick and waxy petals. The flowers are about 2 in
(5.1 cm) across and sweetly fragrant, like orange blossoms,
especially at night. The edible fruit is a pretty plum shaped red
berry abut 2 in (5.1 cm) long which tastes like sweet cranberries.
Natal plum blooms almost all year long and most of the time both
flowers and fruit are present.
'Bonsai' grows in a compact mound only 2 ft (0.6 m) tall. 'Prostrata'
and 'Horizontalis' (Natal creeper) are low growing cultivars
suitable for ground covers. 'Boxwood Beauty' is a thornless dwarf.
'Nana' is a thornless dwarf bearing flowers with spirally
overlapping petals. There are many more named selections to choose
Natal plum is native to the Northern South African province of
KwaZulu/Natal. It is a popular hedge plant, widely cultivated in the
New and Old World tropics.
Natal plum prefers a sandy, well-drained soil. It responds well to
close pruning and is easily kept at any size. Many of the cultivars
have a tendency to produce branches that revert to the species
characteristics, so it may be necessary to prune frequently to
prevent the cultivar from reverting completely.
Light: Natal plum does best and produces the most flowers when
positioned in full sun, but it tolerates partial shade.
Moisture: Natal palm is drought tolerant.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. In zone 9 winters, Natal plum may
freeze to the ground, but it usually comes back in spring.
Propagation: Propagate the cultivars of Natal plum from cuttings.
The species may be grown from seed.
Natal plum is the perfect hedge plant. Its dense foliage makes it a
good screen, and its thorns make it an effective barrier as well.
Add on the deliciously fragrant blossoms and edible fruits, and it's
hard to think of a better shrub for the tropical garden. Plant the
larger cultivars on 5 ft (1.5 m) centers for hedges and the smaller
cultivars on 4 ft (1.2 m) centers for foundation plantings. Natal
plum is tolerant of salty soil as well as salt spray and is
therefore an excellent plant for the seaside garden, even in exposed
conditions. The dwarf cultivars can be grown as container plants.
Keep them outside in summer, and in a well-lit, cool and dry
position in winter. Sprawling cultivars can be used as ground
covers, planted on 2 ft (0.6 m) centers. The fruits are made into
jellies and preserves.
The various cultivars of Natal plum are among the best ocean front
foundation, hedge, container and groundcover plants for tropical and
subtropical regions. They are very popular in South Florida. Natal
plums are often grown in containers on ocean front condominium
balconies. Their thick leathery leaves are not torn by wind nor
bothered by salt spray.
All parts of Natal plum are poisonous except for the ripe fruits.
Even the seeds within the fruits are said to be poisonous. Natal
plum should not be planted close to pedestrian traffic because of
its sharp spines.