Pomegranate

Pomegranate

Punica granatum

The pomegranate is an ancient tree that originated in Iran (Persia) and was brought to China in 100BC during the Han Dynasty. It is extensively cultivated in Iran, India, Afganistan and the Mediterranean. It is believed to be one of the oldest trees in cultivation and some scholars believe it to be the forbidden fruit in the Bible’s Garden of Eden.

Given the right conditions a pomegranate tree can live for up to 200 years although it’s main fruiting period is in the first 15 years. With optimal water and nutrition some pomegranates begin bearing fruit in their first year however most don’t start fruiting until 3 years old. Fruit drop is common until the tree is 5 years old.

Pomegranates flower in spring and the fruit is harvested in autumn. The fruit take 6-7 months to reach maturity and do not ripen well off the tree and therefore harvest is not recommended until the fruit is well coloured. The fruit are remarkably pest tolerant with very little disease problems due to their tough outer coating.

Pomegrantes are remarkably drought tolerant and the annual rainfall from their country of origin, Iran, is as low as 50mm in some places but averages 240mm. They grow well across most climates however prefer long hot dry summers. They are deciduous trees and can cope with cold climates however can be harmed by temperatures less than -12°C.

The pomegranate is a small multi-trunked tree with an open canopy usually reaching heights of between 4-6m but can reach 10m in the wild. The tree has a strong tendency to sucker. Fruit bearing spurs are produced on mature wood therefore pruning is not generally recommended. Foliage starts as a reddish green, turned mid-green in summer and then yellow and red as autumn approaches. The branches contain thorns.

The pomegranate flower is large, bright red and showy and many pomegranates are grown for their ornamental purposes alone. Dwarf varieties are available which are purely ornamental with inedible fruit.

The pomegranate fruit is a true berry meaning both the seeds and pulp are produced from the single ovary. The fruit has a tough leathery skin with a crown formed from a persistent calyx at the apex. Fruit is divided into compartments with spongy tissue and each compartment is filled with numerous seeds coated with a juicy pulp.   The word granatum means many seeds.

The pomegranate fruit can be eaten fresh, juiced or dried and used in cooking. Juicing is the most popular way to consume these fruit in the Western world as it is recognised that it is a time consuming challenge to open and remove the intact fruit, some suggest is best done naked, outdoors or in the bathtub. However this fruit has gained popularity in recent years due recognition of its health benefits although these properties were recognized as far back as the ancient Egyptians who were said to use the root extracts to get rid of tapeworms. The fruit has one of the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruit and the juice has been shown to contain polyphenol antioxidants, which may lower the risk of heart disease and some claim, slow the progress of cancer.

The ancient Romans used to turn the tough outer skin of the fruit into a leather to make sandals for their soldiers. Pomegranate bark produces tannins that are used to stain Moroccan leather and extracts of the flowers and fruit have been used as dyes for textiles. Some specialty craft inks are still produced from pomegranate and Grenadine syrup was originally made from pomegranates, although other substitutes are used nowadays.

Pomegrantes are usually propagated from hardwood cuttings taken in winter when the tree is deciduous. These root very easily and sometimes un-rooted cuttings are placed directly in orchards.

References:

The Pomegranate: A New Look at the fruit of paradise. Hort Science Aug 2007 Vol.42

Harvest: A complete Australian Guide to the Edible Garden. Meredith Kirton 2009.

Organic Fruit Growing. Annette McFarlane. 2011



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