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Capparis spinosa  


Common name Common Caper  
Hebrew name צלף קוצני  
أللّغة آلعربيّة الكبر, قبار, شفلح  
Family Capparaceae
Petals 4
Leaf form Simple
Leaf margin Entire
Habitat Heavy soils
Life form Shrub
Distribution in Israel Golan, Hermon, Gallilee, Mediterranean coast, Upper Jordan valley, Northern valleys, Gilboa, Carmel, Samarian mountains, Samarian desert, Judean mountains, Judean desert and Dead Sea valley, Ein Gedi, Sharon, Shefela, Northern Negev, Negev hills and Eilat, Valley,
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Additional information
Capparis spinosa (common caper) is a large (50 to 200 cm), branched and dense thorny shrub. The branches are arched and young branches are crimson. A pair of cruel, hooked thorns are found at the base of each leaf. The leaves, and even the ends of the branches, fall in the winter. The leaves are fleshy to cartilaginous, covered by a waxy cuticle. They are round, with a small thorn at their tip. The leaves are green or tend towards crimson.
Common caper blooms for almost six months, from April until September. The flowers are single, large, non-actimorphic, very fragrant. The flower has a diameter of 6 cm. The 4 petals are arranged in 2 pairs, like a butterfly's wings. The anterior petals are separated from each other in their upper part, and the posterior ones are attached to each other as well as to the nectary at their base. They are wrinkled and somewhat wavy. The most posterior of the 4 sepals is larger than the others and concave, and is positioned opposite the posterior petals which are attached to the nectary, creating a protected reservoir for the nectar. The pollinators are different bees as well as nocturnal Sphingidae and moths. There are numerous stamens (70-120). Their filaments are white at the base and gradually turn a bright pink at their tip. The anther is pink with longitudinal veins. The ovary is carried on a long pedicel (gynophore), which is white at its base and bright pink at its tip, like the filaments of the stamens. The flower opens in the late afternoon hours, remains open for 16-18 hours, and closes on the following day at midday. It opens rapidly and its opening can be followed: first the sepals separate, then the petals gradually spread out. The stamens, that were rolled up, straighten in a fountain-like movement. The flower is revealed in all its splendor within an hour to an hour and a half. After pollination the ovary develops into a juicy fruit with a cucumber to pear shape, which is carried on a long stalk. The seeds are black, and are dispersed by birds and ants.
Common caper grows in stone walls, cliffs, stone fences, terrace walls, stone piles and poor soils, and especially in the crust of hard limestone on top of soft limestone. It is common in all areas of the Mediterranean region, and spreads even to the Judean Desert and the northern Negev. Its global distribution spreads from the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and eastwards to western Asia.

Flower buds, young fruits, young branches and leaves of different species of caper are pickled and are regarded as excellent seasoning. A branch from which all organs except for one hooked thorn were removed was used for "fishing" leeches out of the throat.
The genus contains 350 species. Four species grow in Israel. The leaves are simple and entire, with hooked thorns at their base. The flower of all the species in this genus is large, with bilateral symmetry. One of the 4 sepals is larger than the others and concave. There are 4 petals, of which 2 are adjacent to this large sepal. They are attached to each other and create a reservoir for the nectar. There are numerous, long, colorful and prominent stamens. The ovary is carried on a long pedicel (gynophore), which is considered to be a primitive trait. The fruit splits longitudinally and its peel rolls backwards.

Written by Mike Livne

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Capparis spinosa
Photo: Issac pike © All rights reserved.

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Heritage
Our ancestors included the caper among the creations that succeed in surviving even under harsh conditions, and although you may try to get rid of them, you will not succeed in destroying them. Such plants are called "brazen" (azin) in the language of the Talmud (Tractate Beitzah 25b), where the caper is listed in good company: Jews among humanity, dogs among animals, roosters among birds and goats among the small cattle: "There are three who are brazen: Israel among the nations, the dog among animals and the rooster among birds, and some also say the goat among small cattle, and some also say the caper among the trees" (Beitzah 25b).
The caper is mentioned several times in the Jewish sources (mainly in the Talmud and the Mishnah). "It once happened that a breach was made in the field of a pious man and he decided to fence it about, when he recalled that it was the Sabbath, so he refrained and did not repair it; thereupon a miracle was performed for him, a caper bush grew up there, whence he and his household derived their livelihood" (Tractate Shabbath 150b). The beauty of this story is that from this breach, which the man wanted to repair but did not, he derived his livelihood.
The caper flower buds were pickled and used for seasoning foods. Some of our forefathers earned their livelihood from collecting the flower buds and selling them. This profession was called "a caperer".
A synagogue was discovered in the Golan Heights, with a Hebrew inscription in the frame-head which read: "This is the house of study of Rabbi Eliezer the caperer". What is a caperer? There are numerous conjectures, and most indicate that a caperer dealt in Cyprus wine which is made from caper fruits.
The flowers grow on the branches one after the other, with a new flower being added every day, from the base of the branch towards its tip. The best bud for pickling is a two-days old bud before it opens. The caperer therefore checks the shrub every day, and picks this bud from each branch, and the next day he picks the bud further up, and so on. This is the background for the following story: Rabban Gamliel taught: "In the future, the trees will yield their fruit every day... This same student mocked him again and said, it is written that "There is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1: 9) [i.e., also in the future things will not be able to occur which do not exist today]. He replied, "I will show you an example in this world." They went outside and he showed him a caper plant (according to Tractate Shabbath, 30b).
Ecclesiastes 12:5  " Also, they are afraid of heights and dangers on the road; the almond tree blossoms,
the grasshopper loses its spring,  and the caper berry has no effect; for man is headed to his eternal home, and mourners will walk around in the street;

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