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Punica granatum L. 1753
pronounced: POO-nick-uh gran-AH-tum
(Lythraceae – the crape-myrtle family)
common name: Pomegranate
Pomegranate is a neat rounded shrub or small tree that can grow to about 6 m, but is more typically 3–4 m high. There are also some dwarf varieties. It is deciduous in cooler climates, but may stay evergreen in mild climates. The branches are stiff, angular, and often spiny. The leaves are narrow, lanceolate, glossy and leathery.
Although the flower of the type is scarlet, white and variegated flowering cultivars are available. The flowers may be solitary or grouped in twos or threes at the ends of the branches. The plant is self-pollinated as well as cross-pollinated by insects: cross-pollination increases the fruit set. The photographed cultivar, ‘Noshi Shibari’, grown for its flowers and not for fruit, has a double carnation-like blossom, 6-8 cm in diameter.
Pomegranate fruits are nearly spherical, 8–12 cm in diameter, crowned at the base by the prominent calyx. The tough, leathery rind is typically yellow overlaid with light or deep pink, or rich red. The interior is separated by membranous walls and white, spongy, bitter tissue into compartments packed with sacs filled with sweetly acid juicy pulp that is red, pink or whitish. In each sac there is one angular seed. High temperatures are needed during the fruiting period to get the best flavour from the fruit. The fruits must be picked before over-maturity as they tend to crack open, especially when rained on.
The pomegranate has always been considered to be amongst the most valuable of ornamental and medicinal plants. It is native from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India, and was cultivated and naturalized over the whole Mediterranean region from ancient times. It was described by the Greek writer Theophrastus about 300 BC. According to Asian legend, the pomegranate was the ‘tree of life’ in the Garden of Eden, and from this belief it became the symbol of hope and eternal life. The many seeds of the pomegranate were reckoned to be a symbol of fertility. The erect calyx-lobes of the fruit were the inspiration for Solomon’s crown and for all future crowns.
Pomegranate wood is hard and durable, used for carving small objects. In Jericho, Palestine, remnants of cups and vessels made from pomegranate wood have been found dating from c. 1650 BC. In the Middle East it is also still often used for making farm implements.
Pomegranates were cultivated by the ancient Egyptians. Dried fruits have been found in Bronze Age tombs. Moses had to reassure the Children of Israel that they would still have pomegranates when they reached the Promised Land.
The fruit was used in many ways as it is today, and was featured in Egyptian mythology and art. It was praised in the Old Testament – Solomon compared the cheeks of his beloved to the pomegranate 3,000 years ago.
Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2009, 2015, 2016
Page last updated 12th February 2018