Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Summer Beauty

The days have grown so hot and dry that even the hardy thistles are drying up and turning brown. But even as they disappear into the browning landscape, the beautiful caper flower is beginning to bloom.

Capparis spinosa

An unusual shrub, the caper plant remains dormant and leafless during the rainy season, waiting until the dry season to produce it's smooth green foliage and stunning flowers. Though caper plants are found in many vacant lots and open fields, it is not unusual to find these vigorous plants growing out of limestone walls and paths as they tenaciously penetrate the limestone in search of moisture.

The caper flower, with its multitude of showy stamens, opens at night and is pollinated by moths. Outside of the Middle East, the caper plant is perhaps best known for its "capers", the immature buds which are pickled and used to season fish, salads, and other dishes. Interestingly, although the people of the Levant are known for their wide use of wild potherbs (I've recently received two yet-to-be-identified oreganos and/or sages from a friend of my husband's), the caper has not traditionally been eaten in this area. However, with increasing western influence, local capers are now being harvested commercially.

And, lest you think that we are fortunate to be able to harvest and brine our own capers--and we do have several large bushes growing within a stone's throw of our front door--I must tell you that purchased capers are worth every cent you pay for them, as the plants are armed with very sharp fish-hook shaped thorns that are nearly impossible to avoid when harvesting the buds. (Note, the "spinosa" part of the plant's name.) One brief season of caper picking was all that my pricked and bleeding children and I could withstand.

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