Capparis arborea

native pomegranate


Capparis arborea

(F.Muell.) Maiden 1904

pronounced: KAP-ah-riss ah-BORE-ee-uh

(Capparceae — the caper family)


common names: native pomegranate, bush caper berry, noble caper

native 4Capparis is derived from the Greek καππαρις (kapparis), the caper-plant. This name was used by Dioscorides (ca. 40–90), Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist who practised in Rome during the time of Nero. He travelled extensively seeking medical plants from all over the Greek and Roman world, and wrote a 5-volume work that was a precursor to all modern pharmacopoeias, and one of the most influential herbal books in history. It remained in use until about 1600. Arborea is from the Latin arboreus, of or pertaining to a tree, tree-like. This refers to the erect habit of the species compared with other members of the family.

Native Pomegranate occurs commonly in warmer rainforest (and more occasionally in sub-tropical and littoral rainforest) from the Hunter River in NSW to Cape York. This plant is one of a number of vine forest species with form and growth patterns that are distinctly different in the juvenile and adult stages. Juvenile plants have small, markedly 2-ranked (alternate on the stem and in one plane) leaves, and are much pricklier than adult plants. Juvenile plants also have a vine-like growth habit. Adult plants have large leaves without spiky tips, and lack the paired spines at the leaf stalks. Vestiges of spines may be found on the trunks of mature trees.

The leaves are ovate to oblong, lamina usually 5 – 10 cm long, 1.5 – 5 cm wide, usually glabrous, sometimes pubescent below, petiole 5 – 15 mm long; juvenile leaves are 1 – 6 cm long, more-or-less sessile; spines 4 – 15 mm long, straight, reduced or lacking on mature branches.

This tree is very noticeable when in flower with its large white fragrant blossoms. These flowers last only for the one day, but open in succession over a number of days. They are solitary or often in pairs, the pedicel 3 – 6 cm long. The petals are about 1.5 cm long, and white.

The fruits that follow are on a stalk 4 – 7 cm long, globose, up to 6 cm in diameter, green, and soft and fleshy when ripe. Hard seeds are packed within the spongy, fragrant and edible creamy pulp.

This is the host plant for the Caper White butterfly. Although larvae of this butterfly often eat all the foliage from adult plants, the plants easily recover. The caterpillars of the Chalk White and the Common Pearl White may also be found on the plant. The fruits are eaten by fruit-eating pigeons, fruit bats, possums, and human beings.

The capers that we normally eat do not come from this tree, but are the pickled flower buds of its relative, the Mediterranean Capparis spinosa.
The Native Pomegranate is easily propagated from fresh seeds or from cuttings. Growth of seedlings is, however, very slow. Seedlings seem to establish more quickly if initially potted into large pots that hold more moisture. Young plants may require some protection, although established plants are very hardy.

The tree photographed is on the road to West Point, on the seaward side at the top of the rise just before the road drops down to the Ned Lee’s Creek crossing. There is also a tree on the seaward side of the road to the old Arcadia jetty.


Photographs taken near the West Point road 2009
Page last updated 28th October 2018