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Carissa macrocarpa Dwarf Natal Plum

Edward F. Gilman, Ryan W. Klein, and Gail Hansen


Dwarf natal plum is an evergreen ground cover that is known for its attractive foliage, flowers, and fruits. This dense, spreading plant will reach a height of only 12 to 18 inches. The natal plum has small, leathery, ovoid leaves that are dark green in color accompanied by sharp, bifurcate (forked) spines about 1 ½ inches long. White, star-shaped flowers that are 2 inches wide appear throughout the plant in the spring. The fragrant flowers are solitary and have overlapping petals. Bright red fruits are about 2 inches long and ripen throughout the year. They are plum-shaped berries occasionally used for jellies and preserves. Twigs bleed a milky sap when they are injured.

Full Form—Carissa macrocarpa: Dwarf Natal Plum
Figure 1. Full Form—Carissa macrocarpa: Dwarf Natal Plum
Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS

General Information

Scientific name: Carissa macrocarpa

Pronunciation: kuh-RISS-uh mack-roe-KAR-puh

Common name(s): dwarf natal plum

Family: Apocynaceae

Plant type: ground cover

USDA hardiness zones: 9B through 11 (Figure 2)

Planting month for zone 9: year round

Planting month for zone 10 and 11: year round

Origin: native to Africa

Invasive potential: not considered a problem species at this time and may be recommended by UF/IFAS faculty (reassess in 10 years)

Uses: bonsai; border; mass planting; container or above-ground planter; ground cover; small parking lot islands (< 100 square feet in size); medium-sized parking lot islands (100-200 square feet in size); large parking lot islands (> 200 square feet in size)

Availability: generally available in many areas within its hardiness range

Shaded area represents potential planting range.
Figure 2. Shaded area represents potential planting range.
Credit: undefined


Height: 1 to 2 feet

Spread: 4 to 8 feet

Plant habit: spreading

Plant density: dense

Growth rate: moderate

Texture: fine


Leaf arrangement: opposite/subopposite

Leaf type: simple

Leaf margin: terminal spine

Leaf shape: ovate

Leaf venation: pinnate

Leaf type and persistence: evergreen

Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches

Leaf color: green

Fall color: no fall color change

Fall characteristic: not showy


Flower color: white

Flower characteristic: summer flowering; pleasant fragrance


Fruit shape: oval

Fruit length: 1 to 3 inches

Fruit cover: fleshy

Fruit color: red

Fruit characteristic: suited for human consumption; persists on the plant

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: typically multi-trunked or clumping stems

Current year stem/twig color: green

Current year stem/twig thickness: medium


Light requirement: plant grows in part shade/part sun

Soil tolerances: clay; sand; acidic; alkaline; loam

Drought tolerance: high

Soil salt tolerances: good

Plant spacing: 36 to 60 inches


Roots: not applicable

Winter interest: no special winter interest

Outstanding plant: not particularly outstanding

Pest resistance: long-term health usually not affected by pests

Use and Management

The natal plum is very effective as a hedge or foundation plant, but this species is small, hugging the ground. This habit makes it well suited for planting as a ground cover where an established stand with its dense canopy will prevent weed growth. This natal plum is very effective beneath or in front of tall shrubs or small trees to help set them off in the landscape. Dwarf natal plum is superb for coastal landscapes and will grow up to the first dune.

Grow this plant in full sun to light shade on a well-drained sandy soil. Roots can rot if soil is poorly drained. It is highly drought and salt tolerant, requiring no irrigation once established.

Pests and Diseases

Florida red scale is a common pest. Foliar bacteria and root rots can also be troublesome.

Publication #FPS108

Release Date:March 8, 2023

Related Collections

Part of Shrubs Fact Sheets

  • Critical Issue: Agricultural and Food Systems
Fact Sheet

About this Publication

This document is FPS108, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 1999. Revised March 2023. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.

About the Authors

Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus; Ryan W. Klein, assistant professor; and Gail Hansen, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


  • Gail Hansen de Chapman