Capparis cynophallophora (Capparaceae)
Jamaican caper (Caper family)
Origin: Florida and the West Indies to Central America
One of the more attractive shrubs native to Florida, the Jamaican caper, is found growing in tropical hardwood hammocks along the coastal areas of the central and southern portions of the state. Although it can reach up to fifteen feet tall, Jamaican caper is a slow growing plant, and is typically seen around six to ten feet. It does best in full sun but can tolerate some shade, can handle periods of drought, and is salt tolerant, making it a great choice for coastal landscapes. It is sensitive to cold but can take a light frost. It can stand alone as a small focal tree, or can be used in an informal hedge. When they bloom, Jamaican capers make an excellent conversation piece, as well. The post office in downtown Sarasota showcases this tree which people sometimes photograph.
Capparis cynophallophora is closely related to the edible caper, Capparis spinosa. Once thought to be in the mustard family, capers produce mustard oil, but have been moved to their own family. The blooms give off the fragrance of yellow mustard. The Jamaican caper has a very beautiful habit with its new growth. The underside of the leaves is light colored and stippled, the tops are very glossy and a deep rich green. As new growth emerges from the apical tips, the leaves are tightly folded in half, showing only the whitish underside. The blooms are also beautiful, wispy and reminiscent of a shaving brush, opening white and turning a pinkish purple within the first day. The fruits which follow are contained in skinny pods, a few inches in length, which split open and turn themselves inside out, revealing and spilling the individual red seeds inside. There are a host of birds in our area which adore the fruit.
At the Marie Selby Botanical Garden, we have several Jamaican capers planted along the west walk along Sarasota Bay, rather old, tall specimens. They should be blooming for the next few weeks, and laden with fruit soon after.
Text by David Troxell