Jamaica Caper  Capparis cynophallophora

It's a simple story, really.  Shrub, intent on surviving future generations, develops strategies for fertilization and seed distribution.  

The flowering season is usually from April to July, but an errant flower or two can appear anytime during the year.

Jamaica Caper has perfect flowers, which means they have so-called "male" and "female" components.

In each flower, there are several anthers on slender stamens.  These represent the male, or the "staminate" team.  The anthers contain the pollen grains, which are really haploid gametes. 

In the center of the flower is the female section, the pistil, which consists of a single orange stigma, atop a white style.

At the bottom of the pistil awaits a haploid embryo sac.

In order for the flowers to become fertilized and the fruits to develop, pollen grains have to reach the bottom of the pistil tubes.

The pistil is slightly longer than the surrounding stamens.  How the heck are the pollen grains, hanging in sacs shaped like the heads of flamingos, going to hurdle the distance up to the pistil?  It might as well be on the moon!

This type of set-up depends on, or, we might say, invites the participation of, pollinators (which could include everything from the wind to insects such as bees and butterflies, to vertebrates such as birds, lizards and humans; even you are a potential pollinator).

We theorize that, for the most part, the pollinators are unwitting participants, but who knows for sure; maybe some of them think of it as a sport, or are just tidying up around the neighborhood.  Putting the little pollen grains into as many different tubes as possible, some kind of fun!

The males, having finished their part, immediately wither and lose consciousness. 

Seed pods develop from the flowers during July-September.  They ripen at the height of the rainy season.  

The photo at left shows the mature seed pods, which range in length from approximately 3 to 10 inches long. 

Although not palatable to humans, Jamaica Capers are related to pickled Italian capers that you can buy in those long, skinny jars.

When ripe, the seed pods burst open.  The seeds are wrapped in a sticky, oily, waxy substance that the birds really enjoy.  We've seen several kinds of doves, along with jays, blackbirds, mockingbirds, and more.

The birds scrape clean the stuff, along with the seeds, discarding the skin of the seedpod.  It appears that the birds either digest the seeds, or pass them directly through their digestive systems.  Either way, the viability of eaten seeds is low.  

The strategy for seed distribution seems to be in the stickiness of the mixture.  Birds are messy eaters, and get food all over themselves.  The seeds may stick to the birds.  When the birds fly away, the stuff dries out and falls off, or they clean it off later.  Insects, such as ants, also play a role in the distribution.  They eat the goo and the seeds drop on the ground.

The seeds are not very hardy.  In natural situations, they usually germinate near the parent tree.  They sprout during times of high humidity such as one would find during the rainy season.  Natural distribution is located to coastal areas throughout the South Florida-Caribbean area. 

Irrigation in a landscaping situation will cause groups of seeds to sprout around the base of the plant.  If you don't want this to happen, reduce the amount of water the plant gets.  Don't worry, Jamaica Capers are very drought-tolerant.  The time to water is when the leaves start to noticeably droop.  

The photos below show how Jamaica Caper can be used in landscaping.   Great as a filler plant, it makes an ideal screening that rarely needs trimming. 

Two-tone leaves dance in the wind, and sparkle in the sunlight.

Below, right, is a photo of Jamaica caper with Simpson's Stopper, right next to our office.

   

Slow-growing, it takes a bit of time to get established in a new location, but needs little care once it settles in.

Use them in groups, in a natural arrangement.  Plant them 4 feet apart for best effect and allow them to grow together.  They also work in formal arrangements.  If you desire, they may be kept trimmed at 4 to 8 feet high.  Don't cut 'em any shorter than 4 feet high!

 

Here is a grouping of capers used for screening.  They are in the 8'-10' height range.

At left is a caper that has been trimmed up into a small tree.  It is 18' high with a spread of 14'.  Here is evidence that you can trim your caper into a small street tree that will impress the neighborhood on a daily basis.

Here is that same tree, in full flower.

The photo at right is courtesy of Don Kuhn. 

It is of a Jamaica Caper next to the First Government House in Bermuda.  It was planted in 1780, and now is a spreading tree approx. 30' x 30'.

This photo was taken in 2006, right after Hurricane Fabian, a Category 3 storm. 

In the year 2242, people will enjoy the shade of those capers you are planting today.

Above left, in 3-gal. pots, about 18" tall.

Above right, in 7-gal. containers, 3'-4'+ tall.

Left, in 25-gal. containers, 5'-6' tall.

Here are some 7'-tall beauties in 45-gal. grow bags, great for immediate screening.
 

e-mail: plants@plantcreations.com
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Last updated:  11/21/2013