This plant (Carissa bispinosa) is known by a few names – the bosnoemnoem, forest num-num and Natal plum. It’s an evergreen, ornamental, thorny-stemmed shrub, which has beautiful fragrant, white star-shaped, jasmine-like flowers and produces delicious scarlet to crimson, sweet-tasting fruit. The flowers, although small, are usually white but may have a pink tinge. The name num-num is possibly derived from the sounds made when eating the tasty fruit, or it could be a name of Khoisan origin.
The plants are native to the coastal regions of South Africa and are firm favourites with animals, birds, insects and humans. A very hardy plant that adapts to a wide variety of conditions, it is easily grown on sand dunes and margins of coastal forests where it withstands wind, heat, humidity, direct sun and salt spray.
It is an ideal plant for the garden and will tolerate moderate frost or drought if planted in a protected spot. Once established, it is not difficult to tend to it although it is a slow starter but after the first season, it grows quickly.
The num-num can grow into a large bush or tree of up to 5 metres if left unpruned. Because of the long, sharp spines that form neat forks, the plant is a favourite when wanting an impenetrable hedge and also a firm favourite of Bonsai enthusiasts as it is easily grown in a container.
The leaves appear waxy and are a perfect contrast to the beautiful flowers that occur from time to time throughout the year. The scent of the flowers attracts butterflies that add a bonus to the area. The glossy leaves with smooth margins are dark green on the one side and a paler green on the other side with short, thorn-like tips. It is not uncommon to find fruit and flowers on the same plant, which makes them even more attractive and appealing.
The edible fruits are rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and Vitamin C and the seeds of the fruit are also edible. Even though the skin of the fruit is slightly milky, it has a delicious taste. Preserves like amatungulu jelly is made from the fruit as well as various jams and indigenous people make use of the roots to treat toothache.