Carissa Bonsai (Natal Plum)

Carissa bonsai trees are created from Carissa macrocarpa grandiflora and its many variations. They are all suitable for bonsai.

The plant itself is easy to grow and the fruit, fragrant flowers and small leaves are a plus. Carissa macrocarpa grandiflora has very large thorns. The fruit is commonly used in jams and jellies. Birds are also fond of it, and will steal it whenever possible.

When it became a popular garden plant in California and Florida, many dwarf cultivars were soon introduced. (Not all cultivars produce fruit.)

Common Names

This bonsai is often referred to by the common name Natal plum. So named because the plant is native to a province in Africa called KwaZulu-Natal. (This common name is often mispronounced ‘natal,’ as in birth.)

Carissa boxwood is also a common name, although the plant is not in the Buxus genus.

Carissa as Bonsai

Created by Frank Okamura
Carissa by by Johnson Teh in Miami
Carissa by by Johnson Teh in Miami

The above Carissa (grown by Johnson Teh) is only 8 inches tall and has very small leaves. When it blooms, the flower, albeit small, actually seems out of scale. Not officially identified, it is likely a Carissa ‘Dainty Princess.” The depth of its first container was used to help re-establish some weak roots.

Carissa Care

Natal plum is a tropical plant and, in its natural environment, likes full sun. If given enough light, it will do well indoors. They prefer to dry out a little between waterings, so fast draining soil is a must.

 University of Michigan Bonsai and Penjing collection Carissa

The bonsai cascade shown above, appears to be a Carissa microcarpa grandiflora. It is now exhibited in the permanent University of Michigan Bonsai and Penjing collection.
From the pictures on this page, Natal plum bonsai are suited to many different styles.

Carissa Bonsai from Florida resident Richard Jefferey.
Carissa Bonsai from Florida resident Richard Jefferey.

The lovely bonsai photo above, was sent to me from Florida resident Richard Jefferey. It is an urban yamadori. Rick told me: “I thought I’d share a Carissa from a hedge that survived Hurricane Andrew . . . the house it bordered did not.”

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