Caper Bush Technical Information
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Martin Escobar
Posted on: September 9, 1999

I am interested in growing caper bush in Ensenada, Mexico. What kind of reading information can you recommend me to read and where can I find technical support?

Caper bush (Capparis spinosa) is the source of the pickled capers used as a condiment. It is the unopened flower bud that is gathered in the morning and pickled in salt and vinegar. The pungent taste is used in sauces, pickles, butters, salads, stuffings, hors d’oeuvres, fish, meat, and cheese.

It is a spiny shrub that trails, reaching only a half metre or so in height. It is a native of the Mediterrean region, and it is both collected from the wild and cultivated. In excess of 3,600 hectares of capers are cultivated. According to Albert Hill in his 1952 book, "Economy Botany", it was cultivated commercially in the southern United States also; but we have no information on whether this is still the case.

A good source of information is the Capers New Crop Factsheet by Ben Alkire, published by Purdue University on the Internet (http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/cropfactsheets/caper.html). Much of the information that follows is from Alkire’s factsheet.

The plant is propagated by seed and cutting. The seeds are difficult to germinate because the germination rate is naturally low and because seeds are usually dormant and need pretreatment to germinate. To break seed dormancy, immerse seeds in warm water (40 degrees Celsius) and soak for one day allowing the water to cool. Mix seeds with moist sand and store in at 5 degrees Celsius for 2-3 months. Then soak in warm water again overnight, and then sow in flats containing a well-draining sterile, sowing medium.

Plants are transplanted in winter and spring, 2-2.5 metres apart, about 2,000 plants per hectare. Yields reach maximum in 3-4 years, about 1-3 kilograms of flower buds per plant or 2,000-6,000 kilograms per hectare. Heavy pruning in winter is essential for continued high yields because flowers are produced mainly on the one year old branches. A typical caper bush plantation lasts 20-30 years.

The flower buds are gathered by hand every week or two during the growing season. They are preserved in vinegar or under layers of salt in jars.

Alkire’s factsheet lists references for caper bush, including references on germination and cultivation.

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