Carissa bispinosa

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Botanical Name
Carissa bispinosa
Apocynaceae - The Oleander or Dogbane family.
kar-ISS-uh bi-spy-NO-suh
Common Name(s)
English: Fork-spined Carissa; Red Num Num; Small Amatungulu
Afrikaans: Lemoenbessie; Num-numbessie
IsiXhosa: ibethamtunzi; incumncum
Sesotho sa Leboa: Morokolo
Setswana: Simboka
Tshivenda: Murungulu
IsiNdebele: Umlugulu
Plant Group
  • Shrub A woody plant of relatively low height, having several stems arising from the base and lacking a single trunk; a bush.
Plant Size
  • Medium
    Tree10m to 16m
    Shrub1m to 2m
    Perennial/ground cover40cm to 60cm
    Bulb40cm to 60cm
    Succulent40cm to 60cm
  • Canopy Shade Canopy shade is found below closely grown trees where some light filters through. Ideal for the protection of herbaceous plants.
  • Deep / Full Shade Shade below spreading evergreen trees where sun's rays are unable to penetrate the canopy at any time. For light sensitive plants
  • Dry Shade Shady areas where soil has poor water retention or are dependent on rain for their moisture needs.
  • Light or Dappled Shade Found below trees with sparse, open foliage. Ideal for the protection of herbaceous plants.
  • Partial Shade The area is in shade for part of the day and in full sun for part of the day.
  • Sun The area is in full sun for all or most of the day, all year round.
General Information
  • Attractive fruits, berries or seeds Brightly coloured fruits or berries increase and extend the visual impact of the plant and are especially attractive to birds and other small wildlife.
  • Drought Tolerance: High The plant is well adapted to arid conditions; it can survive long periods of drought and high temperatures without extra water.
  • Evergreen Plants that have leaves all year round.
  • Fragrant / Aromatic These plants posses a strong, usually pleasant odour.
  • Frost: Half-hardy The plant is able to survive low temperatures and some frost but requires protection against severe frost.
  • Salt spray tolerant A plant with specific adaptations enabling it to grow in a saline environment.
  • Sand tolerant Plants adapted to survive in nutrient poor, very sandy soils.
  • Thorns / Spines / Prickles Thorn: A hard, woody, pointed branchlet. Spine: A modified leaf forming a hard, sharp-pointed outgrowth. Prickle: A small, sharp-pointed outgrowth growing from the bark of the plant.
  • Water Wise Plant species originating from low rainfall regions that require less water to survive and thrive than other plant species.
  • Wind Tolerant Plants able to withstand the effect of strong winds.
Specific Information

Carissa bispinosa is usually a dense bush or rambling shrub in wooded areas. Suitable for including in barrier planting and hedgerows. The rate of growth is slower in colder areas where they should have protection from moderate frost. The attractive red fruits are small but tasty.

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star-shaped flowers similar to jasmine

  • Spring to Autumn Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
  • white
Growth Rate
  • Moderate to Fast Specifying growth rate can be very misleading as there is considerable variation of growth rate depending on type and species of plant, available water, supplementary feeding, mulching and general care, as well as the plants suitability and adaptability to the garden environment.
Plant Uses
  • Attracts bees, butterflies or other insects This plant attracts insects which can be food for birds or other creatures in your garden.
  • Attracts Birds This plant will attract birds.
  • Barrier Plant A very thorny shrub, tree or scrambler that can be used to create an impenetrable barrier.
  • Border A strip of ground, at the edge of a driveway or path in which ornamental plants or shrubs are planted.
  • Boundary A plant useful for planting around the edges of the property to form a green or colourful backdrop, an impenetrable hedge, to hide walls or create privacy.
  • Filler Either a fast growing tree or shrub used temporarily to fill in an area while the permanent plants grow to a desired size, or a plant used to fill gaps in borders or beds.
  • Hedge Suitable trees or shrubs planted relatively close together so that the branches intertwine to create a barrier. This can be formal – the plants are regularly trimmed to produce a neat shape, or informal – the plants are left to themselves to create a natural hedgerow.
  • Suitable for bonsai A shrub or tree that lends itself to being dwarfed.
  • Suitable for coastal gardens Plants adapted to dry, sandy soil, forceful wind, limited rainfall and intense sunlight.
  • Suitable for seaside gardens Plants that will survive the hostile environment of harsh salty winds, dry sandy soil, irregular rainfall and heat found in seaside gardens.
  • Suitable for smaller gardens Such plants do not have invasive root systems, remain small or controllable and can often be grown in containers.
  • Wild Garden An indigenous garden planted for the benefit of wildlife and birds. Provides food, water, a variety of mini-biomes and no poisonous chemicals are used.
Distribution and Habitat

in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, the eastern Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West, as well as Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia, in wooded areas

Planting Suggestions

Carissa bispinosa should be planted in light, well-drained soil with the addition of plenty of compost. More water will be required if grown in the sun. Responds well to pruning. Space about a meter apart for hedge planting.

Medicinal Uses

The edible fruits can be used to make jams and jellies. The roots are used to treat toothache. Also used as impenetrable barrier plants.

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I am very interested in Carissa bispinosa. I am from JHB though, do you know if it will grow up here? And can you recommend anywhere up here to look for it?


I see no reason why it would not grow but as mentioned, cold weather will result in slower growth and a smaller plant. It may grow best in a container in a protected spot or on a patio as it is not frost hardy. To find it you will need to contact the indigenous nurseries in your area. (Search: Gauteng indigenous plant nurseries)

Ek bly in Musina en wil weet of die Carissa plant van stiggies sal groei en of ek die vrug moet plant?

Hi Corinne

Ek het al Carissa van stiggies af al gegroei maar dit het oor a jaar geneem en min van die stiggies het gevat. Carissa groei bes van saad af. Maak die saad goed skoon en plant vars. Besoek,
kies 'C' en gaan af na Carissa macrocarpa. Hier sal jy goeie informasie kry oor hoe om die saad te plant.

Goeie wense

Corinne asked if Carissa can be grown from cuttings and whether she should plant the fruits.
I have grown Carissa from cuttings but it took a year and very few of the cuttings struck root. Carissa grows best from seed. Clean the seed well and plant fresh. Go to:
choose 'C' and go down to Carissa macrocarpa. Here you will find good information about planting the seeds.)

How wide does the plant grow, I want to plant it in a bed with other indigneous shrubs


Hi Thomas

The size to which your plant will grow depends on many factors: suitable climate, water, soil, position.....

In the wild in my area it tends to grow into a very straggly shrub, sending long branches into the surrounding shrubbery. Those in my garden which I have trimmed to force them to bush out, have remained quite small - no more than 30 cm wide. Under ideal conditions I would say they would not grow more than a meter wide, but this would take a long time and the bush would need some trimming along the way.

Sorry I can't be more specific.

Kind regards

It grows well in gauteng in the correct spot. If you are in a valley or depression that collects frost then it will die. Having said that it handled the snow we had a few years back no problem. this plant grows quicker and more upright than carissa macrocarpa. In my opinion it is neater and more elegant and maintainable and over time it thickens out a bit.
Carissa macrocarpa spreads horizontally and then sends up shoots after about 3 to 4 years. You need patience with Carrissa macrocarpa to gain height and it will tend to spread outwards even at height.
Carissa bispinosa would be better in a small garden as it can be trained easier.
Once carissa macrocarpa takes off it is a thorny beast. Prune carefully!

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