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Capparis micracantha DC.

by Avelinah Julius & Rafidah Abdul Rahman

Capparis is the largest genus of the Capparaceae and includes about 250 tropical and subtropical species, half of which occur in the New World. Ten species and two subspecies are recorded from Peninsular Malaysia, most found in the lowlands and occasionally up to 1100 m altitude.

The two subspecies of Capparis micracantha DC. are subsp. micracantha and subsp. korthalsiana (Miq.) Jacobs. The former is found mainly in northern parts of the peninsula where it grows on limestone, in sandy spots or, rarely, beside rivers at low altitudes (below 500 m). The latter is mostly recorded from Pahang and Johor but with two collections from Perak. Its habitat preference is more to wetter forest than those preferred by subsp. micracantha.

The subspecies micracantha is a thorny shrub (1–6 m tall) or, rarely, a climber, and is quite common. It is easily recognized by its axillary inflorescence with a series of 2–6 flowers arranged in a row. The flowers have petals and stamens up to 1.6 cm and 3.4 cm long, respectively. It can also be differentiated from the other subspecies by its greenish sepals, 15–25 stamens, and globose to ellipsoid fruits versus the dull, greyish purple sepals, numerous (up to 100) stamens, and oblong fruits of subspecies korthalsiana. Like many members of the genus, this subspecies has upper petals that feature a yellow nectar-guide that turns to dark purple-red with age. Its showy flowers with their changing colour are quite attractive, giving the plant strong potential as an ornamental. From its many, long spreading stamens, it is locally named “Jambul merak” meaning “peacock’s crest” or “Melada” in Malay.

Minor worldwide economic importance of some Capparis is reported in Heywood et al. (2007) and Mabberley (2008). Capparis spinosa L., known in the culinary world as capers, is the most important one. The flower buds and fruits are pickled and eaten as a relish. In Peninsular Malaysia especially in Terengganu, subsp. micracantha has been recorded to have some medicinal value— the pounded leaves and fruits, mixed with salt and turmeric, are used for poulticing swellings or inflamations (Haniff 10470, SING). The unripe fruits are said to be poisonous, but when ripe they are edible and favoured by children (Holttum 15190, SING).

References

  1. Heywood, V.H., Brummitt, R.K., Culham, A. & Seberg, O. (2007). Flowering Plant Families of the World. Royal Botanic Garden, Kew. pp. 424.
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