Crateva tapia (Caper Tree) – Ultimate Guide to Care & Benefits

Lush green Crateva tapia tree with clusters of white flowers and yellow stamens

Pronunciation:

Introduction

Crateva tapia, commonly known as caper tree or Jamaica caper tree in the USA, is a species of flowering plant in the Capparaceae family. It is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas and is known by various regional names, including “mustard tree” in some areas due to its resemblance to plants in the mustard family.

Classification

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Phylum: Angiosperms
  • Class: Eudicots
  • Order: Brassicales
  • Family: Capparaceae
  • Genus: Crateva
  • Species: C. tapia

Description

Crateva tapia is a perennial tree that is known for its ornamental value due to its attractive foliage and flowers. It is also used in traditional medicine and has some commercial value for its wood. It is not considered invasive or problematic in its native range, but like any plant, it can become problematic if introduced into regions where it has no natural predators or controls.

Size

The tree can grow to a height of 6 to 10 meters (20 to 33 feet) with a similar spread.

Leaves

Crateva tapia has trifoliate leaves, meaning each leaf is divided into three leaflets. These leaflets are broad and have a smooth texture.

Flower

The flowers of Crateva tapia are showy and fragrant, with four white to pale yellow petals and numerous long stamens that create a striking display.

Fruit

The fruit is a berry that is green when immature and turns yellow as it ripens. It contains several seeds.

Stem

The stem of Crateva tapia is thick and woody, with a rough bark that provides an interesting texture to the landscape.

Cultivation and Care

Planting

Plant Crateva tapia in a location with enough space for its mature size. Dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and as deep as the root ball’s height. Place the tree in the hole and backfill with soil, watering deeply.

Soil Preference

Crateva tapia prefers well-drained soils but is adaptable to a range of soil types, including sandy and loamy soils.

Watering

The tree needs regular watering until established. Once mature, it is relatively drought-tolerant but benefits from occasional deep watering during prolonged dry periods.

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Sun Requirements

Full sun is ideal for Crateva tapia, although it can tolerate partial shade.

Pruning

Prune to shape the tree and remove any dead or damaged branches. The best time to prune is in late winter or early spring before new growth begins. Use clean, sharp pruning shears or a saw for larger branches. Make cuts at a 45-degree angle just above a bud or branch to encourage healthy new growth.

Propagation

Propagation is typically done by seeds, but it can also be propagated by cuttings or layering.

Health & Safety

There is no widespread evidence to suggest that Crateva tapia is poisonous or toxic to humans, dogs, or cats. However, always exercise caution and consult with a professional if there is any concern about the plant’s safety. The plant is not known to be thorny, spikey, or to cause contact dermatitis.

Pests and Problems

Crateva tapia is relatively free of serious pests and diseases. However, it may occasionally be affected by common pests such as aphids (Aphidoidea) or scale insects (Coccoidea), which can be managed with horticultural oils or insecticidal soaps. These pests typically feed on the sap of the plant, which can weaken it if infestations are severe. Regular monitoring and maintaining plant health are the best defenses against these issues.

Caresheet Data

General Information

Plant Name:crateva tapia
Etymology:nan
Common Name:Caper Tree
Genus:Crateva
Species:tapia
Family:Capparaceae

Plant Characteristics

Height:20-30 ft / 6-9 m / 200-300 cm / 2-3 m
Width and Spread:20-30 ft / 6-9 m
Plant Type:Crateva religiosa
Habit/Form:Tree
Leaf Type:Deciduous, trifoliate, with ovate leaflets
Leaf Arrangement:Alternate
Leaf Shape:Ovate to elliptic with a rounded base
Leaf Margin:Entire
Leaf Color:Green
Fragrance:Yes; sweet, slightly acrid odor.
Stem Description:Crateva tapia has a woody, cylindrical, and branched stem.
Stem Is Aromatic:Crateva tapia does not have a specifically aromatic stem.
Texture:Smooth to slightly rough
Leaf Feel:Smooth to slightly rough texture
Leaf Length:5-15 cm
Leaf Description:Simple, alternate, ovate to elliptic, 3-5 lobed, 4-8 cm long, smooth margins, glossy green.
Hairs Present:No

Cultivation

Light Requirements:Full sun to partial shade
Soil Preference:Well-drained, fertile soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH.
Water Requirements:Medium water requirements; consistently moist soil, well-drained.
Fertilizer Requirements:Balanced fertilizer (e.g., 10-10-10 NPK), applied during the growing season.
Pruning Requirements:Light pruning to remove dead or crossing branches; can be pruned to shape as desired.
Seed Germination Time:14-30 days
Display/Harvest Time:June to September
Fruit/Seed Production:Fruit production.
Growth Rate:Slow to moderate
Growth Habit:Deciduous tree
Root System Type:Fibrous root system
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Flower and Fruit Information

Fruit Type:Berry
Fruit Description:Yellow-green when ripe, spherical, 2-4 cm in diameter, containing several seeds.
Flower Color:Yellowish-white
Flower Shape:Radially symmetrical
Flower Inflorescence:Terminal panicles with white or yellowish flowers
Flowering Season:Spring to early summer
Bloom Duration:4-6 weeks

Tolerance and Hardiness

Drought Tolerance:Moderate
Frost Tolerance:Not frost-tolerant
Heat Tolerance:High
Wind Tolerance:Moderate
Shade Tolerance:Moderate shade tolerance
Salt Tolerance:Moderate
Soil Compaction Tolerance:Low
USDA Plant Hardiness Zones:10-12
Photoperiod Sensitivity:Insufficient data on photoperiod sensitivity.

Wildlife and Landscape

Pollinator Attraction:Crateva tapia attracts bees, butterflies, and other insects for pollination.
Wildlife Value:Crateva tapia provides food for birds and mammals through its fruits, and serves as a host plant for butterfly larvae.
Problematic Insects:Aphids, mealybugs, scale insects
Allelopathic Properties:Yes
Habitat Enhancement:Crateva tapia provides food and habitat for wildlife, stabilizes soil, and contributes to nutrient cycling.
Erosion Control Potential:Low
Landscape Location:Tropical and subtropical regions, often planted in parks, gardens, and along streets.
Landscape Theme:Tropical, Subtropical, Water-wise, Xeriscape, Butterfly Garden
Design Feature:Crateva tapia, commonly known as caper tree or Jamaica caper, can be used as an ornamental plant in landscape design for its attractive foliage, fragrant flowers, and distinctive fruit.
Ethnobotanical Significance:Crateva tapia is used in traditional medicine for treating ulcers, fever, and as a diuretic; its leaves are also consumed as a vegetable.
Naturalization Ability:Low to moderate
Companion Planting Suitability:No established companion plants.

Health and Safety

Edibility:Yes
Edible Parts:Fruit, leaves, flowers
Toxicity:No
Poison Parts of Plant:No parts of Crateva tapia are known to be poisonous.
Toxic to Humans:No
Toxic to Cats:Insufficient data on toxicity to cats.
Toxic to Dogs:No known toxicity to dogs.
Causes Contact Dermatitis:No known evidence of Crateva tapia causing contact dermatitis.
Air Purification Qualities:No established air purification qualities.
Medicinal Properties:Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, hepatoprotective, antilithiatic
Thorniness or Spikiness:No

Sources and Additional Reading

  1. Crateva tapia L. | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science (powo.science.kew.org)
  2. Crateva tapia · iNaturalist (www.inaturalist.org)
  3. (PDF) CRATAEVA TAPIA LINN.-AN IMPORTANT MEDICINAL PLANT: A REVIEW OF … (www.researchgate.net)
  4. Crateva tapia L. – World Flora Online (www.worldfloraonline.org)
  5. Crataeva tapia L. – GBIF (www.gbif.org)
  6. Crateva tapia L. – Encyclopedia of Life (eol.org)
  7. USDA Plants Database (plants.usda.gov)
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