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December 2002

Did you know that the pomegranate (Punica granatum) is considered as the oldest continuously cultivated fruit tree?

Pomegranate (Punica granatum)

Pomegranate (Punica granatum)

Steeped in history and romance and almost in a class by itself, the pomegranate, Punica granatum  belongs to the family Punicaceae which includes only one genus and two species, the other one, little-known, being P. protopunica is found on the island of Soqotra off the southern coast of Yemen.

The pomegranate (Punica granatum Linnaeus) is considered the oldest continuously cultivated fruit tree. The pomegranate is native to the area between Iran and northern India, and has been cultivated since ancient times throughout the Mediterranean basin to India, where it is still cultivated today in largest quantity. The plant was used in many ways, including juice, drinks (Grenadine), dyes, inks, tannins for leather (bark) and a variety of remedies for various ailments. The generic term, Punica, was the Roman name for Carthage from whence the best pomegranates came to Italy. The Phoenicians and Arabic traders introduced pomegranates throughout much of the ancient world. The fruit was used in many ways as it is today and was featured in Egyptian mythology and art, praised in the Old Testament of the Bible and in the Babylonian Talmud, and it was carried by desert caravans for the sake of its thirst-quenching juice. In Greek mythology, Pluto kidnapped Persephone carrying her into the underworld. He offered her a pomegranate of which she ate a few pieces of the pulp from the seeds. This action condemned her to spending half of the year with Pluto (winter) and half with the world of the living (summer). Pomegranates were represented on Carthaginian and Phenician medals and on the reverse of the coins of the island of Rhodes. In Greek mythology the pomegranate is very conspicuous, and symbolizes fecundity and abundance. The fruit was dedicated to Juno, a deity always represented in sculptures as holding a pomegranate. The Greek authors, e. g., Theophrastus, describe the pomegranate under the names of "roa" and "roa side"; also Dioscorides, who quite explicitly sets forth the medicinal properties of the different parts of the plant.

The pomegranate is a shrub, usually with multiple stems, that commonly grows 6-15' 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" long. Pomegranates have beautiful orange-red trumpet shaped flowers with ruffled petals. The flowers are about 2" long, often double, and are produced over a long period in summer. The pomegranate fruit is globose, 2-3" in diameter, and shiny reddish or yellowish green when mature. It has a persistant 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.

Because of its long history of cultivation, folklore and non-food uses of the pomegranate are many. It is popular in Egyptian mythology, the bible, and other ancient writings. It was a symbol of fertility in many ancient cultures. The bright red juice was often used as an ink in ancient times. The fruit has a fairly long shelf-life at room temperature, and hence was carried on long journies through desert climates as a source of water and nourishment. Today, pomegranates make nice ornaments for fruit bowls or Christmas wreaths, as the fruit are marketed around the holiday season.

Source:
http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/pomegranate.html
http://www.uga.edu/fruit/pomegran.htm
http://www.floridata.com/ref/p/puni_gra.cfm
http://www.geocities.com/boonehistory/punica.html

http://www.killerplants.com/plant-of-the-week/20020527.asp

 

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