Caper - Capparis spinosa

Caper - Capparis spinosa


Small evergreen shrub, native to the Mediterranean basin and central-southern Asia, also widespread in Italy. It can reach a meter in height, and generally develops as a ground cover or hanging from dry stone walls or along the cracks in the rock. It has a disordered, very branched and dense appearance; the leaves are rounded, leathery, dark green, waxy; the flowers are large, decorative, white or pink, very showy, they bloom in summer. In the kitchen, floral buds and immature fruits are used, which are preserved in vinegar or salted; they have a very intense and spicy flavor and are eaten alone, or used in the preparation of sauces or condiments.

The caper is a shrub known and used in Europe since ancient times, both in the medical field and for food purposes.

It belongs to the Capperaceae family and to the Capparis genus which, despite being composed of a few species, is very widespread over a very large area that includes the Mediterranean regions, tropical and subtropical areas of Asia and Africa.

Some varieties are grown extensively in Italy, Spain and Morocco in order to collect the flower buds: they are in fact an indispensable element for the preparation of sauces and typical products, given their intense and unmistakable flavor.


The capparis spinosa it is a very branched, evergreen and semi-climbing (or decumbent) shrub. The average height ranges from 40 to 80 cm, the width, on the other hand, can also be 150. It is characterized by a central woody trunk from which a large number of green and reddish herbaceous secondary branches branch off. They are equipped with curved thorns at the base of the leaves and on the new shoots of the vintage that serve as anchors to the entire plant.

The leaves are alternate, mostly oval in shape, rather leathery and shiny, of a nice lively green. In areas where the plant grows spontaneously these are persistent, a characteristic that is maintained if the winter temperatures do not drop below 3 ° C, even if the plant is able to survive even down to -5 ° C.

The flowers, carried on long peduncles, are large, very decorative and endowed with a very pleasant scent. They have a single corolla formed by four large white petals with pink-lilac shades on the edges. They are mostly terminal and therefore arise at the top of the branches produced during the year.

The plant produces it in large quantities and continuously, from May until October. The single flower, however, is short-lived and rarely lasts more than a day.

What is consumed under the name of caper is actually an unopened bud.

From the beginning of summer, if the withered flowers have not been removed, the first fruits will appear, green fleshy oval capsules of about 3 cm in diameter. Later, as they mature, they will turn a nice dark red. Inside they hide a large number of small seeds.

Family, genus and speciesCapperaceae, gen. Capparis sp. thorny
Type of plantEvergreen shrub
RusticityLittle, down to -5 ° C
ExposureFull sun
GroundPoor and well drained
IrrigationOnly the first year
FertilizationNot necessary
ColorsWhite flowers with pink shades
Flowering / harvestingMay to November
Parasites and adversitySlugs, aphids

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Capers need very sunny positions to develop at their best; they are Mediterranean plants and love very hot summers, with temperatures even higher than 35-40 ° C, and mild winters, even if they can bear short periods of not too intense frost.

The caper is very delicate in the first years of life, but later it becomes extremely resistant. For it to grow at its best, it needs a position sheltered from strong winds and where it can enjoy the light and heat of the sun for many hours a day.

Growth is rather slow: for it to reach a good size and start giving a satisfying harvest, it is necessary to wait at least four years. However, once stabilized, it will give us satisfaction for a long time since it is really long-lived: it has no problem living more than half a century!


They do not need large quantities of water, preferring drought to excess watering. If grown in pots, they need watering only when the substrate has been completely dry for a few days.

Irrigation is only necessary during the first few years, when the root system has not yet reached the deeper layers of the soil. Later the plant will be practically autonomous.

On the contrary, water stagnation must always be avoided since, especially the aerial part, it is often the victim of rot (especially during spring and autumn, which are naturally very rainy).

In pots, care must be taken to check that the substrate is always slightly moist, but absolutely avoiding stagnation and totally abolishing the use of saucers.


They love poor, dry, very well drained soils. In nature, they grow among stones or in cracks in walls and rocks. We can prepare an ideal substrate by mixing citrus soil with a good amount of sand and lapillus, in order to obtain a very friable and incoherent soil.


It occurs by seed, preferably using fresh seeds, which must be sown in large numbers due to the poor germinability; if only dry seeds are found, it is advisable to leave them for a few hours in warm water before sowing them. Usually at the end of winter the capers are propagated using the pruned branches as cuttings; in this way, a plant with numerous flowers can be obtained in two years.

Parasites and diseases

Capers are generally not affected by parasites or diseases. The worst enemies of the caper are aphids and snails.

The aphids, if in large numbers, can be treated with insecticides based on natural pyrethrum.

Slugs and snails can be fought by setting up beer-based traps, spreading egg shells around the plant or, in the most extreme cases, using specific baits.

Cultivation of capers

The caper is a Mediterranean shrub and needs sun and heat to grow and flourish. This is why it is particularly suitable in open ground only for central-southern regions, especially in coastal areas. It is a very suitable essence for the islands and all those poor, sandy and sunny soils close to the sea.

If we live in areas characterized by harsh winters, container cultivation will be imperative, in order to be able to repair our seedlings.

Planting of capers

Planting must always be done in late spring, generally from May onwards.

It is important to work the soil carefully and deeply because the root system is very fragile and it is good that, at least in the early days, it does not find obstacles to its growth. Holes will be made about 50 cm deep. On the bottom it is good to prepare a good draining layer with gravel to avoid the danger of water stagnation.

We pay particular attention to the moment of taking the seedling from the pot: it is absolutely necessary to avoid breaking the bread of earth and the roots because in this respect the plant is very delicate.

After having planted it, let's compress the substratum well and irrigate abundantly.


The spontaneous caper lives in very poor soils. Therefore, the supply of nutrients is not absolutely essential. If we want, we can distribute a minimum amount of granular fertilizer for flowering plants once a year.

Rusticity and protection from the cold

As we have said, it is a not very rustic shrub. Withstands a maximum of -5 ° C and for a limited time. It is therefore important, if we do not live in the far south, to protect the plants or, at least, the root system.

The ideal is to cover the entire sole with one or more layers of non-woven fabric and perhaps cover the foot with a good amount of straw or pine bark, to be removed when the warm season arrives.

Caper pruning

The caper blooms and bears fruit on the tips of the new branches. It is therefore important to favor maximum branching and good vegetative growth.

The young branches of newly planted plants should always be topped to favor tillering and the production of secondary branches.

To maximize production on adult individuals, it is advisable to proceed at the end of winter: the twigs will have to be shortened to one centimeter from the base to stimulate the growth of new ones. Older plants will produce more and more twigs and the production will get bigger and bigger.

Repotting caper

The weak point of the caper is its hypogeal system. It is therefore important to avoid disturbing him frequently. Let's dedicate ourselves to this operation only when we see the roots sprout from the drainage holes and always give rather large containers, and above all deep, so that the interventions are delayed as much as possible over time. The best time to proceed is early spring.

Sowing and propagation

If we do not find caper seedlings on the market (which, especially in the North, are not widespread even in specialized nurseries) we can resort to sowing.

You can proceed from November to March. Autumn is ideal if we have a greenhouse or a warm room to encourage germination. The seedlings will already be available in early spring and we will have an early flowering.

We use a substrate as sterile as possible to avoid the advent of molds or the presence of parasites: the small plants, in fact, are very fragile and succumb quite easily.

The ideal soil is composed of 2/3 of soil for flowering plants and 1/3 of coarse sand.

It can be sown both in bedding and in alveolar trays, mixing the seeds with the sand so that the seedlings do not grow too close together.

We keep the substrate very humid until germination (which takes place in a scalar manner) and then we carry out a selection of the individuals that seem more vigorous to us, eliminating the others.

We transplant into a larger pot when they have reached about 15 cm in height and commit ourselves to making several toppings to obtain well-branched and branched plants.

They are ready for permanent planting starting from the second year.

Unfortunately, the other methods of propagation (such as cutting and offshoots) give poor results.


Capparis spinosa var. inermisLarge white flowers with purple stamens, in June-JulyDecreasing habit

Twigs without thorns

Very resistant to drought

Decorative uses for covering walls or for rock gardens

Capparis spinosaAbundant white or pinkish flowers with lilac stamensUp to 1.5m wide,

falling branches furnished with thorns

For all dry areas and as ground cover or decombing
Capparis arboreaSmall simple white flowers with long peduncles, from January to March.

Edible yellow fruits when ripe

Small tree or shrub up to 8 meters, very thornyFor Mediterranean gardens.

Excellent for making hedges.

Caper - Capparis spinosa: Collection and conservation of capers

The collection of the buds usually takes place from June to November, on a weekly basis. We choose those that are well swollen, but which still appear tightly closed. The ideal is to collect them early in the morning.

They must then be processed as soon as possible because their aroma is easily dispersed when exposed to the air.

Once harvested, let them dry for a day. They are then placed in vinegar, salted or in oil. If desired, the fruits of the caper can also be collected and stored in the same way. These have a more intense aroma than the bud.

Even the leaves can be used, fresh, in tasty salads.