Punica granatum. POMEGRANATE. Southeastern Europe to Himalayas

PUNICACEAE (Pomegranate family)

A small deciduous tree, the pomegranate, or many-seeded apple, brings a cheerful touch of green in spring, later is spangled with scarlet flowers 2 inches across, and in winter, after the leaves have fallen, displays its bright red, leathery, apple-sized fruits, which can be kept for decoration. Juicy pulp capsules reminiscent of a salmon egg enclose the soft seeds. Alas, the fruit is often picked while too sour to eat but many try, as the broken pieces lying around will attest.

Old pomegranates can be seen in the Inner Quad in the two outer east islands, in the outer northwest island, and in the Old Union Courtyard. A specimen is on the west side of Building 300. There is a dwarf variety planted in the gound in Citrus Court, and in others pots at the Hoover Pavilion.

The pomegranate is a delectable ancient fruit mentioned by Homer and by other Greek authors; it was sung of by Solomon, who was partial to pomegranate wine, and who refers to pomegranates several times in the same breath as wine and nuts. They evidently appealed to him, seeing that he had hundreds of graven pomegranates adorning the pillars of his own house. In Persia, Darius ate pomegranates, says Herodotus. Centuries later silver shekels bearing a pomegranate were minted in Jerusalem. Clearly the pomegranate was much more valued than it is in our times, when the whole world benefits from the voyages of the great navigators.

The fruits were referred to by the Roman author Columella as mala Punica because they came to Rome from Carthage, or so it was thought. In any case that is why Linnaeus chose the name Punica. Richard Burton, translator of the scandalous Arabian Nights, the first literate infidel to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, found there the biggest and most fragrant of all; but since then, those of Kabul have received the most praise. Crusaders brought them back to England. Grenadine, the syrup colored and flavored with squeezed pomegranate seeds, and grenade are from the same Latin root. Perhaps children used overripe fruit for throwing. Pomegranates were already growing in California by the mid-18th century.

Pomegranate was once prescribed for eliminating intestinal worms but had other powerful and mysterious properties. When Hades carried off Kore, the daughter of Demeter, she took a pomegranate with her to nibble on. Regrettably, after she was rescued, she was obliged to return each year to the nether world where she had partaken.

Illustration: McMinn, Howard E. and Evelyn Maino. 1951. An illustrated manual of Pacific coast trees; with lists of trees recommended for various uses on the Pacific coast by H. W. Shepherd. 2d ed. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.

Illustrations (links open new windows): pomegranate gallery

Additions/Revisions:

Name derivation, genus | species Carthage (see above) | many seeded

Related material:

Botanical name index | Common name index | Family
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