There is one exotic fruit that always grabs my attention every holiday season – that is the pomegranate (Punica granatum L.).
The bright red orbs appear in the grocery produce department each fall and winter and, up until now, I have resisted their allure.
I couldn’t just buy a few and enjoy them. I had to study them, and I’ve learned they are not just a pretty addition to a table decoration. The juice is an important source of antioxidants and vitamins.
Pomegranates grow well in Central Florida and north to Georgia. The plant is normally a dense, bushy, deciduous shrub but can be trained as a small tree.
Blooms appear spring through fall, with very showy orange-red flowers and will produce fruit the 3rd season from July–November in Central Florida.
The edible parts are contained within the fruit in the form of red juice sacks called arils. Learn more and get recipes from the Pomegranate Council web site.
When grown in the home garden, give them the same attention you would a citrus tree.
Fertilize with a balanced citrus fertilizer containing minor elements four times a year. Grow in full sun, water well until established (at least one full season), and then give it a good soaking at least everyweek if there is no rain.
Colorful History, Fascinating Fruit
Pomegranates are ancient trees whose history dates back about 4,000 years. That isn’t the most interesting thing I’ve learned. But let’s begin with a little history and folklore.
Most historians agree the pomegranate is native to Iran and Northern India. It was cultivated over the entire Mediterranean region, Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Around 1521, Hernando Cortes and Spanish missionaries planted the first pomegranate tree in the New World. It is said that Thomas Jefferson planted pomegranates at his Monticello plantation in Virginia.
In 1896, a Florida farmer by the name of Bearss took pomegranate cuttings to California and began growing them. His fruit were sweeter and juicier than others, so he named it the Wonderful.
According to the Pomegranate Council, during a Persian wedding ceremony, a basket of pomegranates is placed on the ceremonial cloth to symbolize a joyous future.
In Turkey, after the marriage ceremony, the bride throws a pomegranate on the ground. The number of arils (juice packets) that fall out are believed to indicate how many children she will have.
In Crete, when a bride enters her new home, the groom hands her a pomegranate.
The Future for Florida Fruit Growers?
The most interesting thing I learned in my research into this fascinating fruit is that the University of Florida has initiated research, The Pomegranate Project, to determine the commercial potential of pomegranate production in Florida.
Besides citrus, avocado production in Miami-Dade and Collier Counties is currently under stress because of Laurel Wilt Disease.
These diseases, along with some very harsh winters, have devastated some groves to the point of no return, and forced some growers of citrus and avocado to
consider alternative crops.
The pomegranate could have the potential to become a major commercial crop for growers and help save the agriculture industry in Florida.
Since this is Florida, there will be pests to battle on the pomegranate. just as with other fruit bearing plants in your garden.
This includes aphids, mites and some fungal diseases and some soil borne pathogens.
Advice When Planting a Pomegranate Tree
My recommendation to homeowners is to become good friends with your local independent nursery man or woman who can advise you how to grow a healthy plant, or contact the Pinellas County Extension Service Horticulture Help Line at 727-582-2100.
If you want to give it a try on a small scale, visit one of these retailers or phone ahead:
- Carroll Brothers Nursery – 4950 38th Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-527-5410
- Jene’s Tropicals – 6831 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-344-1668. Jene’s carries several varieties all year long
- Saturday Morning Market – Downtown St. Petersburg, Al-Lang Stadium lot
Besides being fun to grow, pomegranates provide us with another menu choice packed with health benefits. Whether you grow several pomegranate trees in your edible garden or grow them in containers, they will make an interesting and exotic addition to any home garden.