Carissa macrocarpa

(Eckl.) A.DC.

Common names:
Natal plum, big num-num (Eng.); grootnoem-noem (Afr.); Amatungulu (Zulu)

The Natal plum is a common and often conspicuous species in coastal bush and sand dunes.

The amatungulu is a fast-growing, ornamental shrub that is wind resistant and can grow in coastal areas. It usually forms a dense thorny shrub but it can grow into a small tree up to 4 m high. This species has Y- shaped thorns; the young branches are green and all parts of the plant exude a white, milky, non-toxic latex. Leaves are leathery, a shiny dark green above and paler below, 20-60 x 15-35 mm, egg-shaped, oval or almost round. The tips of the leaves are sharply or bluntly pointed and usually with a mucro, a thorn-like point. The flowers vary in size, up to 35 mm in diameter, are pure white and scented like orange blossom. The flower tube is hairy within. The large, oval red fruit is edible and is rich in Vitamin C, magnesium and phosphorus. It flowers from spring to midsummer. A low growing form of C. macrocarpa, "Green carpet" is a popular groundcover plant which seldom grows more than knee height.

It grows in coastal bush, coastal forests and on sand dunes, from Humansdorp northwards through Kwazulu-Natal to Mozambique.

Derivation of Name and Historical aspects
The name Carissa is derived from the Sanskrit corissa, the name of one of the Indian species. The specific name macrocarpa is derived from Greek words for 'large' and 'fruit'. The common name amatungulu is the Zulu name amaTungula meaning 'fruit of the umThungula' (Palmer & Pitman 1972).

FruitsThe shrub makes a good garden hedge and the fruits can be eaten raw or made into delicious jams or jellies. This ornamental shrub attracts birds and butterflies to the garden.

Growing Carissa macrocarpa

Plant one metre apart to form a dense, impenetrable hedge in full sun to semi-shade in good garden soil, enriched with compost. It can be pruned if necessary. It is best grown from seed, but can also be grown from cuttings. Fill the seed tray with soil and compact lightly. Treat seed with a pre-emergence fungicide and sow in the tray, cover the seed with a thin layer of soil or compost and water well. Store tray in a wind-free area. Once germinated, replant seedlings into well-composted soil. Seedlings can be fed with a liquid fertilizer.

Coming from coastal areas, this plant is frost tender, but can survive a little frost if planted in a protected spot.

References and further reading

  • Joffe, P. 1993. The gardener's guide to South African plants. Tafelberg, Cape Town.
  • Palmer, E. & Pitman, N. 1972. Trees of southern Africa. Balkema, Cape Town.
  • Venter, F. & Venter, J-A. 1994. Making the most of indigenous trees: the large num-num. Farmers Weekly 29 July 2020: 60, 61.

    If you enjoyed this webpage, please record your vote.

    Excellent - I learnt a lot
    Good - I learnt something new

    Berenice Carolus
    Harold Porter NBG
    March 2004
    With additions by Yvonne Reynolds


To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.

This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website


© S A National Biodiversity Institute