A small deciduous tree up to 15 or 25 ft high, free from down in every part, often spiny. Leaves mostly opposite, narrow oblong, entire; 1 to 3 in. long, 1⁄3 to 1 in. wide; stalks very short. Flower scarlet-red, 1 to 11⁄2 in. across, scarcely stalked, terminal on short side twigs, and often in pairs. Petals crumpled, normally five but often more; calyx with five or more lobes, and a funnel-shaped base to which the very numerous stamens are attached. Fruits rarely ripened in this country, deep yellow, roundish, 21⁄2 to 3 in. across, with the calyx-lobes adhering at the top, filled with a reddish, very juicy pulp and numerous seeds.
The pomegranate has been grown for its fruits in the south of Europe and N. Africa eastwards to Persia, Palestine, and India from remote antiquity. But it is probably only native of Persia and Afghanistan. Its praises are recorded in the earliest songs and writings that have been preserved to us. In the British Isles, where the tree has been grown for perhaps four centuries, ripe fruit is denied us. In the open ground the plant is killed back to ground-level in any but the mildest winters, and even on walls, where it thrives well, lack of sunshine precludes the development of palatable fruits. At the same time fruits are occasionally borne: in 1874, according to a letter preserved at Kew from Lady Rolle of Bicton, a magnificent tree that covered the whole front of a house in Bath was laden with fruit; and in 1911 fruits were produced, if not ripened, in various parts of the south. Grown on a sunny south wall, it bears its showy flowers quite freely from June to September, and is worth growing for their sake.
In the gardens of Versailles, visitors will have noticed growing in tubs many remarkable, very old pomegranate trees, with gnarled, crooked trunks which to all appearances are as old as the château itself.
The pomegranate can be raised from seeds, cuttings, or by grafting; the varieties by either of the two last methods; if grafted, seedling stocks of the type should be used.
cv. ‘Legrelliae’. – Flowers double; petals (according to the original description) salmon-pink variegated with white (but sometimes described as red variegated with yellow). It was introduced to Belgium shortly before 1858 by Mme Legrelle d’Hanis, who obtained it from her friend Mme Parmentier, a Belgian lady resident in Illinois, USA. It appears to be an unstable mutant from the double red, to which it reverts, but has also produced a branch-sport with white double flowers.
var. nana (L.) Pers. P. nana L. Dwarf Pomegranate. – Of dwarfer stature than the normal form, and smaller in its leaves (which are often relatively narrower than usual), and also in its flowers and fruits. Bot. Mag., t. 634.
The first description of the dwarf pomegranate under the Linnaean system of nomenclature was published by Linnaeus himself in 1762 (Sp. Pl., ed. 2, p. 676). This original form had been introduced to France at the end of the 17th century from the West Indies, where it was used as an ornamental hedging plant. Presumably it arose there as a mutation from the original stock brought from the Old World by the early colonists. This New World form had reached Dr Sherard’s garden at Eltham in Kent by 1723 and was known to Philip Miller. He called it the dwarf American pomegranate and said that, unlike the normal European kind, it was too tender to survive our winters, but would bear flowers and fruits if kept under glass in moderate heat, and would grow to about 3 ft in a pot. ‘The Fruit of this Kind’, he wrote, ‘is rarely much larger than a Walnut, and not very pleasant to the Taste.’
The dwarf pomegranate in commerce at the present time is probably of independent origin, since it is only slightly tender and survived the winters of 1961-3 in many gardens. It comes true when raised from seeds, which are available from seedsmen, and received an Award of Merit when shown by Messrs Sutton in 1936 as a coolhouse plant. It is advisable to grow it to flowering size in a greenhouse (three or four years) before planting it outside at the foot of a sunny wall.
cv. ‘Plena’. – Flowers double; the showiest form. Philip Miller remarked that the double-flowered pomegranate is less vigorous, but more floriferous, if grafted on the common sort, than on its own roots.