What Do Gilgamesh,  Rachel Ray, and My Yard Have in Common?

27 Jun

Answer: Capers

Jamaica Caper Capparis jamaicensis

(Caper nomenclature is a jungle.  Even the family assignment is unstable.  Good luck on “the” definitive names to use for capers.  Jamaica Caper goes also as Quadraella jamaicensis, and is widely mis-dubbed  Capparis cyanophallophora— a similar but separate species in the Caribbean and Bahamas.Those who mine the books and Internet will find even more names.  The taxonomy has been mildly “unsettled.”)

Limber Caper Cynophalla flexuosa (aka Capparis flexuosa)

Spiny Caper Capparis flexuosa

John and George were unable today to undertake our usual Friday wilderness encounter, so, staying home, I spy Jamaica Caper in the front yard.  It is a popular local landscape species, usually encountered as a shrub around here.  In our former carefree lives in the Caribbean John and George, who lived simultaneously on separate heavenly islands known for offshore banking, enjoyed the species as a front yard shade tree up to 15-20 feet tall having a trunk 6 inches or more in diameter.  Anything able to flourish on a  limestone outcrop in the middle of the Caribbean is tough, which is one of the selling points of this species in landscaping: sun yep, shade ok to a point,  drought-tolerant,  hurricane-adapted,  pruning-tolerant, fertilizer-free, pest-shunning, low maintenance, and yet always pretty and with color-changing blossoms in spring or early summer.

All of today's photos are Jamaica Caper, by John Bradford.

All of today’s photos are Jamaica Caper, by John Bradford.

Changes in flower color are common in the floral world.  The changes are generally interpretable as signals to pollinators concerning nectar availability.

Few shrubs are easier to recognize: The leaves have a brownish-silverish scaly sheen beneath, the leaf buds resemble butter knives, the flowers are pretty big, bowl-shaped, wiskery with long stamens, and transition from white to pale pinky-purple.  The pod looks like a bean, opening to reveal a red interior with blackish seeds.  Hey, that came up recently in this blog.    An added bonus of this species and Limber Caper is hosting  the Florida White Butterfly.  But this is not a how-to-garden blog, horto-info is available in spades by Google, so to avoid reinventing the caper let’s move on to other stuff, after a little geography.

Capparis cyanophallophora close

Jamaica Caper grows naturally from coastal central Florida through the Caribbean and Mexico to Central America.  Limber Caper has a similar distribution, including in Florida.  Limber Caper is, yep, limber-er, sort of a vine-shrub, and its leaves lack that silvery sheen beneath.

What’s that about the Western Wall?   Plants sprouting from unlikely places are always fun, and the Western Wall in Jerusalem hosts a vertical flora of roughly half a dozen indestructible crack-dwellers.  The prettiest is Spiny Caper,  with flowers remarkably similar to our own Florida species, including the color change, and pod with that trademark red lining.  Spiny Caper is the main pickled caper so heavenly on chicken picatta and salmon with lemon and caper sauce.  My second-favorite food on earth after microwaved tofu is an anchovy wrapped around a caper.

Capparasis cyanophallophora frt

Capers are flower buds, although the Capparis spinosa pod has a culinary life of its own. You can see similar buds on our own Jamaica Caper, but please when whipping up Pasta Puttanesca, visit the Piggly Wiggly and buy a jar of the real McCoy.

Spiny Caper has the confused taxonomy and unclear original distribution standard for plants with histories in prehistoric human commerce,  dating back in archaeology, in ancient records, and in the Bible at least to varied ancient Mediterranean and Mesopotamian civilizations.  It grows from the Mediterranean all the way to Australia and Pacific Islands.  No doubt the earliest boats to criss-cross the Mediterranean had capers aboard.

Butter knife buds on Jamaica Caper

Butter knife buds  ans silvery-browny under-leaf scales on Jamaica Caper


Posted by on June 27, 2014 in Capparis


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11 responses to “What Do Gilgamesh,  Rachel Ray, and My Yard Have in Common?

  1. theshrubqueen

    June 27, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Thanks for the info. For some reason I thought capers were nasturtium buds?! Have a question for you, is there a text book used to teach South Florida plants?

  2. George Rogers

    June 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    I’ve heard nasturtium buds called nasturtium capers, but that’s marginal and stretched, like calling a Brazilian Pepper and Florida “Holly.” After all, the botanical name for the true caper is capparis.

    A book I like is—and of course I’m not biased—is the “Manual of Landscape Plants for South Florida” put out by the Palm Beach State College Horticulture Dept. The 3rd printing is sold out. The updated and lovely 4th printing is presently on a ship in the Pacific Ocean, with delivery due right after the 4th of July weekend. Sales are handled by Maura Merkal at pbsc, Tell her you saw it on the blog. She’ll give you 50% off. 20 bucks. Really.

  3. theshrubqueen

    June 27, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Fabulous, I have been looking for a good book for at least 3 years, I have some old clients popping up asking me to get reciprocity here – so that will be a great reference for me. Thank you.

    • George Rogers

      June 27, 2014 at 9:46 pm

      Hope you like it—excited we are that the ship is almost here.

      • theshrubqueen

        June 27, 2014 at 10:30 pm

        I went and looked online, the book looks great and I am looking forward to getting it.

  4. Uncle Tree

    June 27, 2014 at 9:37 pm

    LIKE always, a pleasure to read and view something new from George & John.
    There are still Piggly Wiggly’s in your whereabouts? Goodness gracious!
    The whiskers on those capers are so captivating, and durable!

    Glory be — reach is the word. Light becomes them.

  5. George Rogers

    June 27, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    Uncle Tree, You got me. I don’t know where there’s a Piggly Wiggly any longer. I just like to say it. You’ll excuse a little poetic license. Sure enjoyed your dark matter and rainbows. Honored to hear from you.

  6. George Rogers

    June 27, 2014 at 9:51 pm

  7. Steve

    June 28, 2014 at 7:22 am

    I miss the old name, C. cynophallophora. My students loved it when I explained the etymology of the species epithet and showed them the fruits (unopened). Glad to see it somewhat remains with Limber caper genus. Botanists used such creative names back in the day.

  8. George Rogers

    June 28, 2014 at 11:01 am

    True enough. You see I have reformed and kept the material family-friendly for our more genteel participants. Others may look it up in their Funk & Wagnalls.


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