We moved to Palo Alto when I was child, so I was amazed to learn that we had our own pomegranate tree in the front yard, already well established. The seasons were marked by its unusual flowers in late spring and into summer. Just when school was about to restart, the fruit was turning from green to red. When this happened, signs of brilliant yellow leaves were just beginning to also turn. Autumn is right around the corner, my favorite time of year. The stains on my hands from the ruby red seeds should have been a permanent stain for the amount I enjoyed. I helped my parents juice them to make pomegranate jelly or molasses, and on one occasion, our own grenadine. These are memories I carry with me, before the fruits, juice, and seeds were so readily available at the supermarket.
Since I am walking along memory lane, does anyone remember Weibel Winery when it was in Fremont? My parents would always take visitors to their tasting room. We would turn onto their Eucalyptus lined drive, immediately engulfed in the oily scent. While my parents and their friends indulged in wine tasting, the children were not left out. We enjoyed tasting grenadine, mimicking the adults. That's how I first learned about pomegranates...and wine tasting.
As an adult, pomegranates were planted wherever I lived, including here in Saratoga. My first attempt was near the mouth of the Russian River in Sonoma County, where I quickly learned P. granatum does not enjoy cold and wet climates (how is it native the the Himalayas, I ponder). The answer might be when I noticed a number of specimens at Colonial Williamsburg. The multi-trunk specimen in the photograph below is from there. Planted in courtyards or against south facing brick walls, they must receive just enough heat to survive, but I never found out how much fruit if any they produced.
Their production has grown exponentially, with marketers touting its antioxidant health benefits. As a commodity, the growth in California is staggering. A 1977 report by the late farm advisor, James H. LaRue, referenced the state's pomegranate orchards at 1,850 acres in 1927, suffered a drop in the 1950s, but as of 1976 had increased to 2,500 acres. More recently, the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center referenced "Crop Year 2012-2013, the harvested acreage for the state was 26,935 acres, yielding 10.5 tons of pomegranates per acre, and a production total of 282,532 tons with a value of $115.4 million (CDFA, 2015)." While Americans are benefitting from this accessibility, some of us reap the rewards of a home harvest, in part because buying them in the store is usually not cheap.
Now let's consider Punica granatum from a landscape designer's perspective. Despite their popularity, they are unexpected conversation starters, if you will, in the landscape. Bright orange flowers followed by lush fruits are not yet common in home gardens, less so in commercial spaces. Having a small stature, even as a tree standard (or smaller as a multi-trunk), lends itself to smaller spaces, particularly next to outdoor dining where the fruit offer a reminder of gentile culture. Often a subject of still life paintings, pomegranates lend themselves to romantic settings.
For nursery availability, there are several options. P. granatum 'Wonderful' is the most popular (shown in feature photo); this is the fruit you will likely see in the stores. Nurseries grow it as either a multi-trunk shrub/tree or standards mentioned earlier. Another cultivar, 'Nochi Shibori' is not as easy to find, but the flowers are spectacularly double and heavily ruffled (included in the photos below). If fruit production is not the goal, consider using a dwarf cultivar, such as 'Nana' that only reaches 3' high. There are other options if you can find them.
Botanical Name: Punica granatum
Punica: Latin, originating from malum punicum, which means Carthaginian apple.
Granatum: Red, as in the interior hardwood
Pomegranate: Also Latin, a derivative of pomium for apple.
Common Name: Flowering pomegranate
Family Name: Lythraceae
Origin: Iran to the Himalayas
Positioning: Containers, courtyards and other small spaces, middle to background
Garden Themes: Mediterranean/dry, agrarian/kitchen, pollinator, children (see comment about stems), pollinator/hummingbirds
Uses: Espalier, specimen, edible fruit, accent, informal hedge, barrier
Type: Deciduous shrub or tree (multi-trunk or standard)
Size: 20' tall by 15' wide (may reach 25' as standard, smaller per cultivars)
Outstanding Feature(s): Flower, fruit, fall color
Bark: Light gray or light brown, furrowed with age, scaly
Stem: Produces ancillary shoots with pointed tips acting as sharp thorns (see photo in above)
Color: Medium green turning bright yellow in autumn
Surface: Smooth, glossy
Flower: Spring to summer. Striking orange (white, pink or red; single or double cultivars), trumpet, usually pendulous. Showy.
Fruit: Summer to fall. Large green maturing to dark red aggregate with ruby red arils (edible).
cultural requirements, tolerances & problems
Sunset Zones: 5-24; H1, H2
USDA Zones: 8-10
Light: Sun to light shade
WUCOLS SF Bay Area Hydro Zone: Moderate
Texture: Sand, loam, clay
Moisture Retention: Saturated
pH: Very acidic to very alkaline
Tolerances: Drought, saline, Texas root rot, deer
Branch Strength: Medium
Insects: Plant bug, white fly
Disease: Chlorosis, sooty mold, leaf spot
citations & attributions
Bayton, R. (2019). The Royal Horticultural Society's the Gardener's Botanical: An Encyclopedia of Latin Plant Names. London: Mitchell Beazley.
Extension Gardener. "Punica granatum." North Carolina State University, Raleigh. Accessed on August 19, 2021, from https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/punica-granatum/.
LaRue, H.J. (1977). "Growing Pomegranates in California." University of California, Davis. Accessed on August 19, 2021, from http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/programs/5419/Growing_Pomegranates_in_California.htm.
Marzolo, G. (2015 update). "Pomegranates." Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Iowa State University, Ames. Accessed on August 19, 2021, from https://www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/fruits/pomegranates.
Norris Brenzel, K. (Ed.). (2012). The New Sunset Western Garden Book. New York: Time Home Entertainment, Inc.
Plant Finder. "Punica granatum." Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis. Accessed on August 18, 2021, from http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?taxonid=286059.
SelecTree. UFEI. "Punica granatum Tree Record." 1995-2021. Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. Accessed on August 19, 2021, from https://selectree.calpoly.edu/tree-detail/1211.
Singleton, J. (n.d.). "Lost Wineries and Vineyards of Fremont, California." Washington Township Museum of Local History, Fremont. Accessed on August 19, 2021, from https://museumoflocalhistory.org/wordpress2/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Lost-Wineries-and-Vineyards-of-Fremont.pdf.
Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. "WUCOLS IV Plant List." University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Davis. Accessed on July 27, 2021.