Caper (Capparis Sandwichiana)

Plant: Table of Contents

Caper (Capparis sandwichiana): A Hawaiian Treasure

Plants are not only essential for providing oxygen and food, but they also hold cultural, medicinal, and ecological importance. The caper plant (Capparis sandwichiana), also known as the Hawaiian caper plant or Sandwich Island caper, is a remarkable indigenous species that deserves attention. It is an endemic plant to the Hawaiian Islands and possesses valuable cultural and ecological significance. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the unique characteristics, culture, uses, care requirements, and interesting facts about the caper plant. From its habitat to its folklore, we will delve into all aspects of this extraordinary botanical treasure.

What is the Capter Plant (Capparis sandwichiana)?

The caper plant, scientifically known as Capparis sandwichiana, is a member of the Capparaceae family. This perennial shrub is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, where it thrives in diverse habitats, from coastal areas to dry rocky slopes. The plant is characterized by its shiny, round, and fleshy leaves, while its flowers bloom in stunning white and emit a sweet, delicate fragrance. The fruits of the caper plant are known for their culinary and medicinal uses.

Key Takeaways: Capar (Capparis sandwichiana)

Here are some key takeaways to pique your interest in the caper plant:

  • The caper plant, also known as Capparis sandwichiana, is an indigenous Hawaiian species with profound cultural and ecological significance.
  • It has edible and medicinal properties, making it a valuable resource for traditional practices and modern applications.
  • The plant requires well-drained soil, ample sunlight, and periodic pruning to thrive.
  • The caper plant is a popular choice for container gardening due to its manageable size and unique aesthetic appeal.

Now, let’s explore the various aspects of the caper plant in detail:


Understanding the cultural significance of the caper plant is essential in recognizing its value to the indigenous communities of Hawaii. The plant is deeply rooted in Hawaiian folklore and traditional practices, where it holds symbolism and is associated with various cultural ceremonies and rituals.

Hawaiian Folklore and Symbolism

In Hawaiian folklore, the caper plant is often revered for its resilience and adaptation to the diverse landscapes of the islands. It symbolizes strength, endurance, and the ability to thrive in harsh conditions, reflecting the spirit of the Hawaiian people and the unique ecosystem of the islands. Moreover, the plant’s flowers are often used in leis, symbolizing honor, respect, and love.

Traditional Uses

The caper plant has been used for centuries by the native Hawaiians for both culinary and medicinal purposes. The fruits of the plant are harvested for their pungent and flavorful capers, which are utilized in various traditional dishes, adding a distinctive taste to local cuisine. Medicinally, the plant has been utilized for its healing properties in traditional Hawaiian medicine.


The caper plant offers a multitude of practical applications, ranging from culinary delights to medicinal remedies. Understanding its uses can illuminate the plant’s significance and utility in various contexts.

Culinary Applications

Caper plant has been a valuable ingredient in traditional Hawaiian cuisine, where its pickled flower buds, known as capers, are used to enhance the flavor of local dishes. The unique piquancy of capers adds depth to salads, fish, and meat dishes, elevating the culinary experience with its distinct taste. Furthermore, caper berries, an edible part of the plant, are also utilized in various culinary creations, offering a burst of flavor and texture.

Medicinal Properties

In traditional Hawaiian medicine, the caper plant has been revered for its medicinal properties. The plant’s extracts and infusions have been used to address various ailments, including digestive issues, inflammatory conditions, and skin irritations. As research continues to unveil the therapeutic potential of the caper plant, it holds promise for modern herbal medicine and natural remedies.


Ensuring proper watering practices is essential for the health and vitality of the caper plant. This section will outline the appropriate watering techniques and requirements for cultivating thriving caper plants.

  • Watering Frequency: Caper plants thrive in well-drained soil and generally prefer moderate watering. It is crucial to allow the soil to partially dry out between watering sessions to prevent waterlogging, which can lead to root rot. Regular, deep watering is recommended, especially during the plant’s active growth periods.
  • Moisture Considerations: While caper plants require adequate moisture, they are sensitive to waterlogged conditions. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that the planting site provides proper drainage to prevent water accumulation around the roots. Mulching can also help retain soil moisture while preventing waterlogging.
  • Seasonal Adjustments: Adjusting the watering frequency based on seasonal variations is important. During the plant’s dormancy or in cooler months, the watering frequency can be reduced, whereas in the growing season or hot, dry weather, more frequent watering may be necessary to maintain optimal moisture levels.


Proper sunlight exposure is crucial for the growth and flowering of caper plants. Understanding the sunlight requirements of the plant is essential to provide an ideal growing environment.

  • Sun Requirements: Caper plants thrive in full sunlight to partial shade. While they can tolerate moderate shade, they generally prefer bright, direct sunlight to encourage vigorous growth, flowering, and fruit production.
  • Sun Exposure Considerations: When selecting a planting site for caper plants, it is important to choose a location that receives ample sunlight, especially during the plant’s active growing season. In regions with intense heat, providing some protection from the harsh midday sun can prevent stress and sunburn on the plant’s foliage.
  • Indoor Considerations: For container-grown caper plants, ensuring access to bright, indirect sunlight indoors is essential. Placing the containers near south or west-facing windows can provide the necessary light exposure for healthy growth.


Applying the appropriate fertilization regimen is crucial for promoting robust growth, flowering, and fruiting for caper plants. Understanding the nutritional needs of the plant is essential for providing essential nutrients for optimal health.

  • Nutrient Requirements: Caper plants benefit from a balanced fertilizer application, containing a mix of essential nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Additionally, micronutrients, such as magnesium and calcium, play a role in supporting overall plant health.
  • Fertilizer Application: Applying a balanced, slow-release fertilizer formulated for flowering shrubs in the early spring can provide the necessary nutrients to support the plant’s growth and development. Additionally, supplementing with organic matter, such as compost or well-aged manure, can enrich the soil and enhance nutrient availability.
  • Frequency and Dosage: Depending on the soil quality and plant’s growth rate, fertilizing once or twice a year may be sufficient for caper plants. It is important to follow the recommended dosage and avoid over-fertilization, which can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of flowering and fruit production.


Understanding the soil preferences and requirements of caper plants is essential for ensuring optimal growing conditions and overall plant health.

  • Well-Drained Soil: Caper plants thrive in well-drained, sandy loam soil with good drainage. The soil should be aerated and free-draining to prevent waterlogging and root rot. Additionally, adding organic matter, such as compost, can improve soil structure and moisture retention.
  • pH Levels: Caper plants prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil with pH levels ranging from 6.0 to 7.0. Conducting a soil test can help determine the pH and nutrient levels, allowing for necessary adjustments to create an ideal growing environment.
  • Container Considerations: When cultivating caper plants in containers, using a well-draining potting mix formulated for flowering shrubs or succulents can provide the necessary support and drainage. Adding perlite or coarse sand to the mix can enhance drainage and prevent water accumulation at the roots.


Implementing proper pruning techniques is crucial for shaping the plant, promoting healthy growth, and encouraging flowering and fruit production. This section will outline the essential pruning practices for caper plants.

  • Pruning Objectives: Pruning caper plants serves multiple purposes, including removing dead or damaged growth, shaping the plant, and encouraging robust flowering and fruiting. Additionally, pruning can help manage the plant’s size and promote a compact, aesthetically pleasing form.
  • Timing: Pruning is typically performed in late winter or early spring before the plant enters its active growth phase. This allows the plant to recover and initiate new growth following the pruning session.
  • Techniques: Using clean, sharp pruning shears, selectively remove any dead, diseased, or overgrown branches. Additionally, shaping the plant to maintain a balanced form and promote air circulation can enhance overall plant health and vigor.


Propagating caper plants allows for the expansion of its presence in gardens and landscapes. Understanding the propagation methods is essential for cultivating new plants and preserving the species.

  • Seed Propagation: Propagating caper plants from seeds is one of the primary methods for expanding its population. Sowing seeds in well-draining, sandy soil in a warm, sheltered location can promote germination. It is important to provide consistent moisture and protection from extreme conditions during the initial growth stages.
  • Cutting Propagation: Taking semi-hardwood cuttings from healthy, established caper plants can also be an effective propagation method. Rooting the cuttings in a suitable growing medium, with high humidity and indirect light, can facilitate the development of new, independent plants.

Container Popularity

Caper plants are renowned for their adaptability to container gardening, offering an ideal option for individuals with limited garden space or those seeking to cultivate the plant in controlled environments.

  • Aesthetic Appeal: Caper plants present an attractive ornamental option for container gardening with their glossy foliage, delicate flowers, and ornamental fruits. Their manageable size and striking appearance make them an ideal choice for patio, balcony, or indoor cultivation.
  • Space Considerations: The compact nature of caper plants makes them well-suited for container gardening, where they can thrive in appropriately sized pots or containers. Selecting containers with adequate drainage holes and well-draining potting mix can promote healthy growth and prevent waterlogged conditions.

Common Diseases

Understanding the potential diseases that can affect caper plants is essential for implementing preventive measures and timely interventions to maintain plant health.

  • Fungal Diseases: Caper plants may be susceptible to fungal infections, particularly under conditions of excessive moisture and poor air circulation. Identifying signs of fungal diseases, such as leaf spot or powdery mildew, and addressing them promptly with appropriate fungicidal treatments is crucial for preventing spread and minimizing damage.
  • Bacterial Infections: Bacterial diseases, such as bacterial leaf spot, can affect the foliage of caper plants, leading to unsightly lesions and reduced overall health. Implementing cultural practices, such as proper watering, pruning, and sanitation, can help minimize the risk of bacterial infections.

Disease Diagnosis

Diagnosing potential diseases affecting caper plants involves careful observation of symptoms and understanding the environmental conditions that may contribute to the development of diseases.

  • Symptom Recognition: Identifying visual cues, such as leaf discoloration, wilting, or abnormal growth patterns, can provide valuable indications of potential diseases affecting the caper plant. Documenting the symptoms and seeking professional diagnosis can help determine the appropriate course of action.
  • Environmental Factors: Considering environmental aspects, such as humidity levels, air circulation, and moisture management, can provide insights into the conditions that may promote disease development. Adjusting these factors can contribute to overall plant health and disease prevention.

Common Pests

Caper plants may encounter pest infestations that can affect their foliage, flowers, and overall vigor. Identifying and addressing common pests is essential for maintaining plant health.

  • Aphids: Aphids are common pests that may infest caper plants, feeding on the plant’s sap and causing leaf distortion and yellowing. Implementing natural predators, such as ladybugs, or using insecticidal soaps can help manage aphid populations.
  • Scale Insects: Scale insects can also affect caper plants, appearing as small, immobile bumps on the plant’s stems and foliage. Controlling scale infestations through manual removal and targeted treatments can prevent the spread and damage caused by these pests.

Botanist’s Tips

As a plant scientist, I offer the following tips for cultivating and caring for caper plants:

  • Site Selection: When selecting a planting site for caper plants, choose a location with well-drained soil and ample sunlight exposure to promote healthy growth and flowering.
  • Pruning Considerations: Prune caper plants selectively to remove dead or overgrown growth, allowing for improved air circulation and aesthetic enhancement.
  • Culinary Delights: Explore the culinary uses of capers and caper berries, incorporating them into various dishes to experience their unique flavor and culinary appeal.
  • Conservation Efforts: Support conservation initiatives and practices aimed at preserving native Hawaiian plant species, including the caper plant, to safeguard their ecological and cultural significance.

Fun Facts

  • In addition to its culinary and medicinal uses, the caper plant contributes to the biodiversity of the Hawaiian Islands, providing habitat and sustenance for native wildlife.
  • The caper plant’s delicate, fragrant flowers play a role in traditional Hawaiian ceremonies and cultural practices, symbolizing love, honor, and respect.
  • Caper plants exhibit remarkable adaptability, thriving in coastal areas, dry slopes, and diverse habitats throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
  • With proper care and attention, caper plants can flourish both in garden landscapes and container gardens, offering a distinctive ornamental addition.

Links to External Resources

For further exploration of the caper plant and its diverse attributes, the following external resources provide valuable information and insights:

In conclusion, the caper plant (Capparis sandwichiana) serves as a botanical gem of the Hawaiian Islands, embodying cultural, culinary, and ecological significance. From its role in traditional practices to its culinary and medicinal uses, the plant offers a diverse array of attributes that enrich the natural landscape and heritage of Hawaii. By understanding the unique characteristics, cultivation requirements, and broader significance of the caper plant, we can appreciate its value as an indigenous Hawaiian treasure and advocate for its conservation and sustainable utilization. Whether in gardens, landscapes, or traditional practices, the caper plant continues to inspire and contribute to the rich tapestry of Hawaiian flora.

As a plant scientist passionate about native Hawaiian species, it is my hope that this comprehensive guide has provided a deeper understanding and appreciation for the caper plant, encouraging conservation efforts and a celebration of its cultural and ecological legacy.

Picture of Peter Taylors

Peter Taylors

Expert botanist who loves plants. His expertise spans taxonomy, plant ecology, and ethnobotany. An advocate for plant conservation, he mentors and educates future botanists, leaving a lasting impact on the field.