Carissa bispinosa

  • Fork-Spined Carissa
  • Common Num-num
  • Forest Num-num
  • Small Amatungulu
  • Y-Thorned Carissa
  • Bosnoemnoem (A)
  • Noem-Noem (bos) (A)
  • isiBethankunzi (X)
  • umVusankunzi (Z)
  • murungulu (V)
  • morokolo (T)



  • A resilient, medium to large, spiny shrub or small tree, with a naturally upright growth habit, slightly smaller than its more well-known relative, the Big Num-num. It has many cultivars and woody, dwarf prostrate varieties across the country, and is a common, handsome garden subject, bearing an abundance of scarlet, delectable, nutrient rich fruits. It has rather thick and rigid, deep, shiny green leaves, masses of stout, hard, Y-shaped thorns that are borne in neat forked pairs across the stems, and clusters of delicate, delightfully fragranced pinkish-white, starry flowers. The dark, sleek foliage, almost pure white flowers and crimson, cherry-like fruits, which often appear simultaneously, make for a beautiful, eye-catching contrast.

SA Tree

  • 640.1 & 640.5


  • Apocynaceae (Dogbane family)
  • A family of trees, shrubs, woody vines and herbs belonging to the order of Gentianales, with more than 400 genera and 4500 species, found primarily in the tropical and subtropical areas of the world.
  • Many members possess a milky or watery latex, which is often poisonous, but is also used medicinally or as bird lime.
  • Leaves are typically simple and opposite, or arranged in whorls of 3 or more, with smooth, entire margins.
  • Flowers are small and grouped in clusters, rarely solitary, and the fruits are either berries or drupes, usually occurring in pairs but sometimes singly.
  • Many members are highly decorative, such as the Frangipani and Impala Lily (Adenium multiflorum).


  • A common species, found in a wide range of habitats at medium to low altitudes (sea-level to about 1600 m), frequenting the southern, eastern and north-eastern parts of South Africa and a few tropical, mostly eastern and north-eastern African countries.
  • It is almost always found in strands of dense vegetation and woodlands and is very common in the under-storey growth of mist-belt forest of the Eastern Cape, Natal and Transkei.
  • It can also be found at the margins of evergreen and scrub forests, in dry woodland areas, grassland, bushveld, coastal forests and occasionally near or on dunes, as well as on rocky outcrops, where it often accompanies termite mounds.
  • Widespread in the Western and Eastern Cape, parts of Gauteng, the eastern Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the North West province, extending to Swaziland, Mozambique and westwards towards Namibia.


  • A bright, conspicuous, even green when young, maturing to a dullish grey-green, and becoming increasingly corrugated.
  • The main stem is nearly always multi-stemmed and many-branched, with the branches almost always displaying a repeated forked pattern.
  • Numerous once-or twice-forked, stout spines (20-45 mm), can be seen along the stems.
  • It contains a milky latex which is exuded when the skin is broken or damaged.


  • Evergreen.

  • Simple, broadly to narrowly ovate or ovate-elliptical (10-70 x 10-35 mm), oppositely arranged leaves, carried on short stalks of up to 3 mm.
  • The leaves can be very variable in size.
  • They are hairless, with smooth, downwards curving margins, and are a shiny, dark-green above, with rather obscure lateral venation and paler undersides.
  • They have a thinly leathery texture; but as they mature it becomes thicker and wax-like, rounded, lobed or square bases and a tapered, pointy or curved tip.


  • Small, star-shaped, white to pinkish-white, sweetly scented flowers, produced in clusters at the ends of branches.
  • The often pink-tinged corolla tubes (a tube-like structure formed by the petals or their bases fusing together), are typically slender, and measure 6-9 mm, while the lobes are 3-5 mm long, and overlap to the left.
  • The flowers are smaller than those of the Natal Plum (Carissa macrocarpa).
  • Flowering and fruiting can occur for much of the year but is usually most prolific in August to March.


  • A small, thin, elongated, somewhat ovoid berry (10-16 x 45-60 mm).
  • It has a thin red skin and juicy pulp covering 1-2 seeds and matures -to bright red.
  • Edible. (January – October).


  • 1-5 m


  • 1.5 -2 m


  • Not many medicinal uses have been recorded, but traditionally, infusions and decoctions of the roots have been used to alleviate toothache.


  • The fruits, which have a high potential as a commercial, are often available at roadside markets, and make delicious jams, jellies and preserves.
  • They can also be eaten raw.


  • The bright red berries attract a host of birdlife to the garden, as they are a favoured snack of many fruit-eating species.
  • The scrambling, intertwining, dense, thorny branches also provides a secure nesting site for many birds.
  • The leaves are often browsed by game and occasionally, livestock.
  • The delicious, nutrient-rich fruits (high vitamin C and essential mineral content), are loved by monkeys, baboons, certain smaller mammals and people.
  • The fragranced flowers attract a multitude of insect life, as well as butterflies and bees.
  • These will in turn lure insectivorous birds.
  • A magnet for wildlife.


  • As an ornamental, with its dark foliage, bright red fruits and dazzling white flowers that form a striking contrast, the Forest Num-num has high potential.
  • It is hardy, adaptable, water-wise, and does not have an aggressive root system.
  • Suitable for container planting, will survive in shady areas, responds well to pruning, and makes a lovely bonsai subject.
  • Planed as a single specimen or a focal point it is sure to attract attention.
  • They make lovely, decorative hedges, both formal and informal, and are a good choice for neat hedges in parking areas.
  • It makes a solid, nearly impenetrable, thorny security barrier or hedge, and if intended for this purpose, it needs to be planted about 1 metre apart.
  • Over time, it will make a dense, decorative screen, and it can be grown in difficult coastal and smaller, townhouse gardens, or areas with limited space.
  • It is evergreen, so it will remain lush all year round, and attracts a host of wildlife to any garden.
  • Also, a good candidate for filling gaps in the garden.


  • The Num-num is moderately to highly drought resistant and can adapt well to arid environments.
  • It can survive prolonged dry periods and high temperatures once established, but while still young and during the active growing seasons it is advised to water it often so as to not hamper development.
  • They are only half frost-hardy, and rather tender to frost damage, especially when young.
  • C.bispinosa is therefore more suited for the warmer parts of the country but can survive in colder areas if planted in a sheltered position.
  • As a rule, the plants should be given protection from cold for at least the first 2 years.
  • They are highly resistant to strong winds, and can also endure the relentless onslaught of strong, salt-laden coastal breezes and sandy, saline, nutrient- poor soils.

Growth Rate

  • Average to slow.
  • A rate of 300 mm per year is typical under ideal conditions, but growth is slower in colder areas.
  • First flowering can usually be expected at 2-3 years of age.


  • It can grow well enough in rather damp, half-shade conditions, but it generally does better in a sunny position.
  • Prolific flowering will only occur when it receives a good amount of strong, direct sunlight.
  • In more shady conditions, the foliage tends to be scraggly and sparse, while in full sun it becomes denser, with a more upright growth habit.

Soil & Water

  • The plants grow best in a well-drained, nutrient dense, moisture-retentive, peaty or loamy soil, with a somewhat acidic to neutral ph.
  • They are however quite hardy with regards to soil quality, and will accept less favourable, sandy and slightly saline soils.
  • It grows best in areas where summers are temperate to warm, winters are mild, and rainfall is moderate to high.


  • Easily grown from seed or half-ripe heel cuttings.
  • Seeds can be stored in a cool, dark, dry area after harvesting, and can maintain their viability for a relatively long time, after removal of the fleshy, germination inhibiting pulp.
  • Sow the seeds in spring or early summer, in a well-drained mixture of compost and fine, washed river sand (1:2).
  • Place in a warm, bright area (not direct sunlight), and keep the soil moist, but not overly wet.