Seasonal observations of the Master Gardeners
- Author: Janet Snyder
Published on: September 4, 2018
My husband and teen son just returned from a tour of Italy and Greece on a school trip with teachers and classmates. Now don't feel sad for me - I had a wonderful visit with family in Texas while they were gone - trying to keep up with a tour group in the heat and humidity they experienced in the Mediterranean didn't appeal to me.
Anyway, my husband was great about sending me pictures throughout the time they were there. Many of these photos showcase the variety of flora and fauna they saw while touring, which gave me a chance to do some research on plants I might not have done otherwise. One such plant was a very pretty white flower he spotted on one of their excursions, and he texted, "...a random white flower in Delphi" with the photo. It was such a pretty flower that I did some searching to see what it was. It didn't take long to discover it was from a caper bush, Capparis spinosa, also called a Flinders rose. I hauled out my trusty Sunset Western Garden Book to learn a little bit more.
The caper bush is native to the Mediterranean, thriving in hot, full sun with very little water once established. It can be a very dense shrub or sprawling and vine-like. The flowers appear late in the spring and through the summer, opening in the morning and closing late afternoon. The 2-3" white flowers have many purple stamens, making them a beautiful flower to see while walking around the Italian countryside.
The best part - the unopened buds, typically the size of a corn kernel - are the 'berries' we call capers, pickled and used in many Mediterranean cooking dishes. The berries are picked in the mornings during the growing season, the best is when the buds are still young and small (therefore tender). However, there are some poisonous species of Capparis, so I suggest leaving the pickling of berries to the professionals.
So, the next time you eat a salad or some bagels and lox with cream cheese topped with capers, you'll know a bit more about the plant from which the caper 'berries' originate!