POMEGRANATE
THE SUPERFRUIT
Road to stardom
was a long one




November 06, 2008


By Jane Stephens,
Victoria County
Master Gardener


Edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County
Master Gardener

Photo Credit: Charla Borchers Leon/Victoria County Master Gardener
The pomegranate fruit ripens this time of year. This fruit, about the size of a lemon, is currently growing on the 73-year-old tree in Old Victoria and is beginning to show its reddish skin as it matures.
It was bound to happen sooner or later. The clues have been there for years.

We were all thrilled by the wondrous actions of Superman. Then came the Super Bowl. We can super size our french fries. We have super stars and super delegates. And now - we have super fruits. Yes, superfruits. This esteemed position will not be granted to just any old fruit. No, indeed. This honor must be earned. The pomegranate is one of the few that will wear the crown of super fruit.

ORIGINS
The road to super fruitdom has been a long one for the pomegranate. The name is derived from Latin, "ponum" (apple) and "granatur" (seeded.) The pomegranate originated in Persia and has been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region since the third millennium B.C. Although not known if it spread via the Silk Road or by sea traders, it was grown extensively in South China and Southeast Asia.

It is one of the seven fruits mentioned in the Bible. The pomegranate is carved on the ancient coins of Judea and Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate has 613 seeds, which is the number of commandments of the Torah. Leonardo da Vinci used the pomegranate in many of his religious paintings of the Virgin and Child.

Thomas Jefferson planted pomegranates at Monticello in 1771 hoping it would grow as it had not been successfully grown in England.

From this illustrious and historical pedigree came American "cocktails" for children, the Shirley Temple, made with grenadine syrup from the pomegranate.

GROWING CONDITIONS
From this rich history came this standard smaller tree, usually no more than 15 to 20 feet tall. At this time it is mostly grown in California and Arizona, but that could change very soon.

High temperatures and a dry climate are necessary for the fruit to ripen which occurs from September to January. Pomegranates are drought tolerant and in the wetter areas they are prone to root decay from fungal diseases. They are also tolerant of moderate freezes, down to about 14 degrees.

The pomegranate should be planted in rather heavy, well drained loam with full sun. It is propagated by cuttings.

There is also a dwarf form that is perfect for pots and small landscaping projects. The dwarf bushes produce small fruit no larger than tangerine size but are very attractive plants when their scarlet orange flowers are blooming. Both sizes produce edible fruit all year.

Pomegranates may be grown from seeds or cuttings. During the winter dormant period, 8- to 10-inch cuttings may be stuck in containers of potting soil or directly into well prepared beds in the garden.

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE

The pomegranate, which is slightly larger than the lemon that can get as large as a small grapefruit, has a rounded hexagonal shape with thick reddish skin. Its tree is considered a fairly productive fruit tree. The edible part, the seeds, which range in color from white to deep red, are actually berries. So pretty to look at, the pomegranate is certainly one of the most difficult fruits to eat.

MARKETING SUPERFRUIT
Pomegranate has always been used extensively throughout the Middle East but in the United States it was neither a popular fruit nor a popular drink. That began to change in 2002 with its first in-depth marketing. Then in 2005, the food and beverage industry, hoping to bring together marketing, science and potential health value, coined the term superfruit.

The pomegranate marched onto center stage. According to wikipedia.org, the on-line free encyclopedia, certain criteria must be met in order for it to achieve the esteemed honor of superfruit.

SCIENTIFIC BENEFITS
If all of this sounds familiar, you will note that in this contest the fruit must have a pleasing appearance, excel in the talent category, awe the judges in the swimsuit portion and have personality plus.

Oh, what the fruits go through to earn this title - and that was just the beginning. During this past year, the pomegranate has been used in 10 clinical trials in the U.S., Israel and Norway.

These trials were mainly to study the effects that the consumption of pomegranate juice has on various diseases.

To date, there are preliminary results that the pomegranate may have not only the ability to slow the onset and development of several diseases, but also to assist in defeating the common cold and plaque. No doubt about it - this is a super fruit.
Photo Credit: Henry Hartman/Creative Images
This standard size pomegranate tree exists in a side bed at the home of John Moraida and Joe Baugh in Old Victoria. It was planted when the house was built in 1935, and at 73 years of age, it still produces fruit year round. Shown here are the various stages of fruit from very small to the ripe lemon size to the spent small grapefruit size still on the limb.
Photo Credit: Charla Borchers Leon/Victoria County Master Gardener
The pomegranate tree blooms and fruits year-round in this climate, preferring hot, dry conditions and surviving freezes down to 14 degrees. It produces scarlet orange blooms and rounded hexagonal fruit with thick reddish skin.
Pomegranate trees, fruit

Come in standard and dwarf sizes

Standard can be planted in beds; dwarf in pots or as shrubs

Prefer heavy, well-drained loam and direct sun

Produce scarlet orange blooms and reddish, edible fruit

Bear year-round lemon-to-grapefruit-size fruit

Marketed with superfruit qualities

Criteria for superfruit significance

High nutrient density

Superior antioxidant quality

Potential health benefits

Quality flavor, appearance and fragrance

Ease with which fruit can be further developed through breeding for nutritional significance
LOOK FOR POMEGRANATE TREES

There are pomegranate trees scattered across the central and southern part of Texas. In fact, they have been seen in Victoria County lining a rural residential road entrance - and in Old Victoria.

One, in fact, was planted at the time the home was built in 1935, which makes it 73 years old, and it still produces healthy fruit.

There are several dwarf pomegranate bushes more recently planted at the Master Gardener Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG) along the back fence line near the EarthKind roses.

The pomegranate has also attracted the attention of Texas A&M University. Dr. Jim Kamas, Texas AgriLife Extension Horticulturist in Fredericksburg has recently collected and planted 23 pomegranate cultivars from Northern Iran and area countries. They are growing very well and in five years, he should have good data on recommended cultivars to plant.

Several cultivars are being sold with "wonderful," the old standby and an excellent choice. Very soon, I think that there will be more than a scattering of this versatile fruit tree.

And who knows? The pomegranate in time just may become the fruit juice of choice to be super-sized at various popular cold drink stops.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.