Although pomegranates have been cultivated since ancient times, few southern gardeners include this deciduous to semi-evergreen large shrub or small tree (height and width of 12 to 15 feet or more) in their landscapes. Besides its glossy green leaves, pomegranates produce gorgeous carnationlike flowers during June and July. They are about an inch wide and comprised of 5 to 8 crumpled petals. They occur singly or in groups of twos and threes at the ends of the branches.
Pomegranate tolerates acid or alkaline soils and can be sited in full sun to part shade. However, best growth occurs in regions with hot summers and cool winters. The pomegranate can be grown as far north as Washington County, Utah, and Washington, D.C., but not expected to bear fruit. Domant pomegranates can tolerate temperatures down to 12 degrees F; however, severe damage can occur from late spring frosts when new growth emerges in the spring. Commercial pomegranate fruit production is centered in the Bakersfield-Fresno area of California.
There are basically two kinds of pomegranates: cultivars that produce sweet- or tart-flavored fruits and those that do not bear fruits. Many ornamental pomegranates have been selected for their showy flowers, especially those with double flowers that look like carnations. The fail to set fruit due to the abnormal structure of their flower parts. Although pomegranate flowers are typically hermaphroditic containing both male and female stamens an pistils, some nonfruiting cultivars have unisexual flowers or have flowers whose pistils degenerate or are nonfunctional. A few double-flowering pomegranates include ‘Alba’ (double white), ‘Mme. Legrelle’ (coral-red with white variegation), ‘Nochi Shibari'(dark red), and Tayosho (apricot).
Fruiting cultivars bear round reddish-green to violet fruit about 3 to 5 inches wide that have a leathery rind. The fleshy seeds are enveloped in a juicy pulp, which may be sweet or tart-flavored depending on the cultivar. These healthy fruits provide potassium and vitamin C and are chock-full of antioxidants. Cultivars grown for their fruit include ‘Wonderful’, in cultivation since 1896, which bears double orangish-red flowers and greenish-red to reddish-orange fruit. The juice is mixed with sugar and water to make grenadine syrup. ‘Grenada’, is a close relative of ‘Wonderful’ with sweeter, darker fruit. ‘Ambrosia’ has gold rind with a red blush, while the rind of ‘Sweet’ remains slightly greenish with a red blush when ripe.
While folks may either like or dislike this unusual fruit, there’s no disagreement about the flowers. Granted, it may be an acquired taste. But there’s no disagreement about the flowers: they’ve been captivating civilizations for centuries.
For more information on growing pomegranates in South Carolina, see “Pomegranate”, HGIC 1359 (http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/vegetables/tree_fruits_nuts/hgic1359.html