778 Punica granatumCommon Names: pomegranate Family: Punicaceae (pomegranate Family)
The pomegranate is a shrub, usually with multiple stems, that commonly grows 6-15 ft (1.8-4.6 m) tall. The slender branches start out upright then droop gracefully. Unpruned shrubs have a decidedly weeping or fountain shaped habit. The deciduous leaves are shiny and about 3 in (7.6 cm) long. Pomegranates have beautiful orange-red trumpet shaped flowers with ruffled petals. The flowers are about 2 in (5 cm) long, often double, and are produced over a long period in summer. The pomegranate fruit is globose, 2-3 in (5-7.6 cm) in diameter, and shiny reddish or yellowish green when mature. It has a persistent calyx opposite the stem end that looks like a little crown. The fruit is technically a berry. It is filled with crunchy seeds each of which is encased in a juicy, somewhat acidic pulp that is itself enclosed in a membranous skin. The seeds, juice and pulp are eaten, but the yellowish membrane is too astringent.
There are several cultivars selected just for the showy flowers. 'Chico' (dwarf carnation pomegranate) can be kept under 2 ft (0.6 m) tall and produces double flowers over an extended season, but no fruit. 'Legrellei' is a dense shrub, 6-8 ft (1.8-2.4 m) tall, with double creamy white flowers with pink stripes and no fruit. 'Nochi Shibari' has double dark red flowers. 'Nana' (dwarf pomegranate) is 1-3 ft (0.3-0.9 m) tall with orange-red single flowers. 'Tayosho' has light apricot colored flowers. 'Alba Plena' has double white flowers. Popular cultivars selected for fruit are 'Wonderful' which has double orange-red flowers and large, 5 in (13 cm) fruits; 'Paper Shell', which has a very thin outer skin; 'Fleishman' which is said to have the sweetest fruits; and 'King', with double red flowers and large, sweet fruits. It is said that there are seedless varieties, sweeter varieties and larger varieties in cultivation in the Middle East and India, but for some reason these are not available in the West.
The pomegranate, Punica granatum, is native to Asia, from the Middle East to the Himalayas, where it grows in sandy or rocky scrublands. It is cultivated for its fruit and showy flowers in much of the Mediterranean region and tropical America. The pomegranate has escaped cultivation and become established in parts of southern Europe and the American South and Southwest.
CulturePomegranates do best in climates with long hot, dry summers and cool winters. They are not well adapted to culture in Florida. Pomegranates are very tolerant of sandy, clayey, acidic and even alkaline soils. They are also fairly salt tolerant. Some gardeners prune pomegranates to a single leader; others retain a few main stems. Either way, you will need to remove the many suckers that constantly arise from the roots, and keep the main stem and main laterals free from suckers too. Since they flower on new growth, pomegranates should be pruned in the dormant season. Pomegranates should begin bearing after 3 or 4 years, and mature, properly pruned, trees can produce more than 300 lbs (136 kg) of fruit per year. Light: Full sun. Moisture: Pomegranates need regular watering, but do best in areas with low summertime humidity. They may grow and flower well in Florida, but often fail to produce many fruits. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. Dormant pomegranates can tolerate winter temperatures down to 15 F (-9.4 C), but they can be severely damaged by a late frost that comes after new growth has begun in spring. Propagation: Pomegranates can be propagated by cuttings or by layering. Softwood cuttings taken in summer are easy to root, as are hardwood cuttings taken in winter. Although easy to grow from seeds, pomegranate seedlings cannot be expected to resemble their parents.
The pomegranate is a very attractive shrub or small tree for the home landscape. A pomegranate can be trained treelike to a single leader and grown as a graceful specimen. Planted 4-6 ft (1.2-1.8 m) apart a row of pomegranates makes a colorful and dense hedge, but they are at their best in the mixed shrub border. Pomegranates can be grown in a large container on the patio and brought indoors in winter. Use the tiny dwarfs for edging or in patio planters. They sometimes are used for bonsai. Harvest pomegranate fruits before they are fully mature (before they split) and store in a refrigerator to ripen. The fruit continues to ripen in cold storage, and the flavor only improves. They can be kept this way for six months. You'll have to decide for yourself whether to suck the pulp from the seeds and then spit them out, or eat the seeds along with the pulp. Pomegranate juice has been likened to a combination of raspberry and strawberry. Jelly and wine are traditional uses of this delicious sub-acidic fruit juice.
The pomegranate was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians. Dried fruits have been found in Bronze Age tombs. Moses had to assure the Israelites that they would still have pomegranates when they reached the Promised Land. The Greeks and Romans celebrated pomegranates. Shakespeare's Juliet insisted to Romeo that it was a nightingale that sang from the pomegranate tree. Pomegranates have many culinary uses in the Middle East and Asia. Besides being eaten raw, the juice is used in traditional Persian, Caucasian, and Indian cooking. Grenadine is a concentrated pomegranate syrup used to flavor drinks.
Steve Christman 8/21/00; updated 3/22/03, 5/26/03, 9/20/03