Caper Bush (Capparis spinosa) are just taking off in Melbourne as we are now able to supply them (well, at least over the summer months). Even if you are not interested in the culinary aspect of capers, the bush itself is a low spreading perennial (winter deciduous) with tough rounded green leaves that provide a backdrop to startlingly lovely flowers with clean pink or white petals surrounding a spray of purple stamens. They really are very attractive.
Caper Bushes are tough plants. You will need to look after the young seedling plants in their first year or two, then total neglect is the key. Do not water them once they are established (approx 2 years). They will need to be planted in full sun on a raised mound of very free draining rich soil. Add in compost, lime (or mushroom compost) and some rock dust. They would do well spilling over the edge of a retaining wall. Caper Bushes are brilliantly adapted to poor soils and low water, with a strong Mycorrhizal relationship as well as the presence of nitrogen fixing bacteria.
Capers are sensitive to frosts when green and growing, but will withstand frosts when dormant. They easily cope with temperatures of 40C. They can be attacked by white cabbage butterfly (it is their small green caterpillars that do the damage), but this is readily controlled using Dipel or Success.
Capers, caper berries and fresh shoots
The salted and pickled unopened bud of the flower is the caper. The long oblong shaped fruit produced after flowering is the caper berry. The young shoots and leaves at the end of the stem can also be used, either fresh or pickled. Capers need to be picked while the bud is still tightly furled. They can be either pickled in vinegar or salted and have a strong mustard piquant flavour.
A badly pickled caper is unpleasant; a correctly pickled caper is superb. Adding a unique piquancy to many dishes, it has rightfully been used for over 5000 years to add flavour and depth to sauces, salad dressings, tartare sauce, pizza, fish, veal, turkey, meats, relishes, tapenades, Mediterranean dishes, artichoke, vegetables, and olives. They can even be fried for a crunchier, crispier flavour and texture.