Pomegranate is an ancient and widely cultivated fruiting shrub or small tree originating in Asia, its natural range extending from western Asia to the Western Himalayas of Pakistan and India.
It may grow to form a tree 10 m (30 ft) tall, though is more commonly a shrub from 2 to 4 m (6 to 12 ft) with multiple trunks in a v-shape. The leaves are small, oval and semi-evergreen or deciduous, being shed during the dry season to conserve water.
The flowers are large, commonly orange-red, though also come in white and yellow varieties. They come into bloom in the rainy season but may bloom earlier, near the end of the dry season, or on and off throughout the year in regularly watered gardens.
The fruit are near round with a prominent nipple and range from an orange to a grapefruit in size, with smaller sizes most common in tropical areas. The rind is tough, leathery and red or orange-yellow when ripe. Sliced through it reveals numerous, tightly packed seed, each covered by a juicy sac.
The juice surrounding the seed is a brilliant red with a pleasingly sweet-sour to slightly astringent taste.
The whole seed are eaten fresh out of hand, used to garnish various dishes or are made into a juice. The juice is normally served chilled or is reduced to a syrup, of which there are two main types, 'Grenadine syrup' and 'Pomegranate molasses'. Grenadine syrup is a widely known beverage flavouring used in a variety of mixed alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Pomegranate molasses is used mainly as a garnish, but also adds colour and flavour to dishes, both sweet and savoury.
It can be grown as a hedge or privacy screen and is well suited to seaside gardens on account of its high tolerance to salt, limestone and alkaline conditions. Some varieties come armed with sharp spines on the branches, which make them useful as a barrier plant. However, most of the newer varieties have been bred to be without thorns or spines. Sometimes it is planted in large patio containers and is a reasonably good candidate for Bonsai culture.
The fruit has long been used to produce a natural dye that gives green, yellow and brown shades. The dye is extracted from the rind and because of its high tannic acid content, no mordant is required for colourfastness.
To make the dye liquid, the rind is cut from the ripe fruit, either fresh or dried, crushed and simmered in water for about an hour, then strained and the fibres added and simmered for about thirty minutes. After simmering, the fibres are left to soak in the dye bath overnight or for longer. Turmeric is sometimes added in the initial simmering to brighten the colours, which can lack brilliance.
A writing ink is produced by combining tannin acid, which is extracted from the bark or fruit rind, with iron sulphate.
The seed and juice are packed with antioxidants and there is evidence to support their consumption as a tonic to maintain a healthy liver and prostate.
Although naturally adapted to dry, warm temperate climates, it grows well and produces fair quality fruit in sub-humid to humid subtropical and tropical climates, generally in areas with annual lows of 10 to 24 °C, annual highs of 20 to 35 °C, annual rainfall of 500 to 1500 mm and a dry season of 3 to 8 months.
New plants are easily started from seed but common practice is to use cuttings or air-layering (circumposing) techniques to produce plants with predictable and desirable characteristics, such as good yields of high fruit quality. Suckering, though a common problem, is another potential source of suitable planting material.
It performs best on free-draining loam, sand and limestone soils of a slightly acid to alkaline nature, generally with a pH of 6.0 to 8.5 and on sites with full to partial sun exposure.
Varieties reported to do well in tropical climates include 'Vietnamese Red', 'Francis', 'Wonderful' and 'Ben Hur' (which produces very large fruit). The fruit will not continue to ripen after harvesting and should therefore only be harvested when fully ripe.
Birds are known to eat and disperse the seed outside of cultivation but there does not appear to be any records of it being a serious weed anywhere, despite its widespread cultivation worldwide. It is assessed as a low weed risk species for Hawaii by the Hawaii Pacific Weed Risk Assessment project (HPWRA).
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