One of Florida's most versatile landscape plants, Natal plum is valued for both its ornamental qualities and its tasty fruit. Vigor- ous, fast-growing, rounded shrub to 10 ft. tall and wide, with oval, leathery, rich green leaves to 3 in. long. Native to South Africa; pre- fers the frost-free climes of south Florida but will grow as far north as Orlando with few problems. It blooms throughout the year, bearing star-shaped, five-petaled white flowers that are nearly as fragrant as those of Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) but larger (to 2 in. across). Oval, fleshy red or purple fruits, 1112 in. long, follow the flow- ers; blossoms and fruit at various stages of ripeness often appear together. The fruit has a cranberry- like flavor and can be eaten fresh or used in jelly, sauce, or pie; be sure it is ripe before you harvest it.
Natal plum is easy to grow in most soils. It's one of the very best plants for the beach, as it tolerates salt spray, wind, and sandy soil. Accepts heavy pruning and makes a superior hedge. Sharp spines along its branches discourage trespassers, so it works well as a barrier plantbut don't plant it near walkways, pools, or steps, where the spines might prove hazardous. In bright light, it can be grown as a houseplant. Not browsed by deer.
'Boxwood Beauty'. Exceptionally compact, thornless growth to 2 ft. high and as wide. Has deep green leaves like those of a large-leafed boxwood (Buxus). Good for hedging and shaping.
'Fancy'. More upright growth than species, with unusually large fruit.
'Gifford'. Among the best fruit bearers.
'Green Carpet'. Low grower to 1112 ft. high, spreading to 4 ft. or wider. Smaller leaves than those of species. Excellent ground cover. 'Emerald Blanket' is similar but slightly lower growing.
'Prostrata'. Vigorous spreader to 2 ft. high; good ground cover. Prune out any upright growth. Can be trained as espalier.
'Ruby Point'. Red-foliaged selection that holds its color well. Grows more upright than species.
'Tomlinson'. Thornless. Compact, slow growth to 2212 ft. high and about 3 ft. wide. Good in large container or as a foundation plant.
'Tuttle'. Compact, dense growth to 23 ft. high, 35 ft. wide. Heavy production of flowers and fruit. Effective as a ground cover.