Focus on Flora - Capparis arborea
  • Last updated:
  • 02 Dec 2022

Capparis arborea otherwise known until very recently as Capparis velutina and previous to that known as Capparis arborea. Yes it has gone back to its original name. It is known by the common names of Brush Caper Berry, Caper, Large fruited Caper etc. It really is no wonder this is a particularly prickly character given the confusion with which we name it. Nomenclature issues aside, this is one of my favourite local natives for so many reasons.

First up, the form and nature of the plant reminds us that this plant evolved in a very different Australia, when spines were benefivial protection from the large herbivorous megafauna that once grazed and browsed upon the flora of eastern Australia's rainforests. As a juvenile seedling and sapling the plants produce a spine in the axil of each leaf to produce a formidable armoury so as to dissuade herbivores from nibbling upon them. However, once the plant is above head (grazing) height the spines in the leaf axils are no longer produced, one would assume because they are not needed. That is not the end of an aggressive defensive strategy for this small tree. As they get larger they produce a unique and robust double spine arrangement on the stem that is quite distinctive and helps identify the larger Capparis species in forests. When they are present in a patch of scrub they are exceptionally easy to find in steep country as they are invariably the trunk you grab to help stabilise yourself on the slopes, owww!

The flowers are spectacular, with long white petals and even longer stamens, they are hard to miss. The large round green fruit up to 6cm diameter are another reminder of their evolution with the megafauna and are great eating if you'r happy to chew on the fruity pulp that surrounds the numerous seeds. Although slow growing initially these are a very worthwhile addition to your rainforest revegetation project.

Article - Spencer Shaw