Do you remember opening a pomegranate and finding the beautiful, reddish seeds glistening in the sun? Pomegranate trees used to be quite common in older gardens, but fell out of favour through time. With the advent of sustainable and productive gardening, pomegranates have become popular again and many varieties are currently available to add to the garden.
Thought to have originated from between the Himalayas and Egypt, Pomegranate trees are mentioned frequently in ancient texts as a sign of fruitfulness. Although not indigenous to South Africa, the tree is adapted to a wide range of climates, from subtropical to Mediterranean, with cool winters and hot summers.
This attractive shrub or small tree can grow to a height of 5 – 8 m and is extremely long lived. The Punica granatum has multiple spiny branches with green, glossy leaves and bright red flowers appear from spring to summer. These are followed by fruit which develops and hangs from the tree from January to as late as May. The fruits are carried on the tips of the new branches.
The fruit has a hard, reddish shell that contains anything from 200 to 1400 edible seeds. The seed range in colour from white to red and even purple and is embedded in a spongy membrane. The fruit is ripe when it produces a hollow sound when knocked and can be stored for a fair amount of time before starting to deteriorate. Pomegranate seeds vary in taste from sweet to sour and have varied culinary uses.
Punica granatum needs the sun to produce fruit and benefits from well-drained soil. It is drought tolerant and fairly hardy, but should be protected from frost when young. The tree can be utilised as a screen or hedge planting and could also be an interesting specimen tree in a smaller garden.