What are they?
Capers are the unopened flower bud of the caper plant (Scientific name: Capparis spinosa). The plant is a low growing, but well spread out bush. As ours have only been in the paddock for 15 months, the plants have not yet grown to the expected height of about 1 metre, or spread of about 3.5 – 4 metres. We are looking forward to getting closer to that size as each year progresses.
The caper plant comes from a Mediterranean climate. Here in the South Burnett, we experience cool winters (-4 degrees in 2012) and hot dry summers (we had high 30’s to low 40 degrees in December & January). All this rain is not in our normal weather pattern for summer. Fortunately our plants are holding up well in this prolonged wet summer. We have put down weed mat along the plant rows, covered it with lucerne mulch, and installed a drip irrigation system. Since January this year, rainfall has far exceeded the caper’s requirements.
As the caper bush grows, each season, the lower branches provide its own mulch cover on the ground. It also easily hides some of the buds that are to be picked. If the buds are not picked in time, they burst into flower. The flowers are beautiful, white petals with many long purple stamens. Each flower only lasts for 1 day.
The variety of caper bush we have are ‘spineless’ they do not have the spikes, or thorns on the bush. This definitely makes for easier picking. After the flower has been pollinated it sets an oblong caperberry which can be picked. If the caperberry is allowed to grow too large and round, it is bitter and not good for eating. The young shoots and leaves have also been eaten either fresh or preserved.