By Dr. William C. Welch
Landscape Horticulturist, Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas
Pomegranates were brought by the Spanish to America. After Cortez conquered Mexico in 1521,
Jesuit missionaries sent to work with the Indians brought pomegranates from Spain. From
Mexico, they were carried northward to missions in California and possibly east to Texas. They
were also thought to be in the early-Florida city of St. Augustine. Some pomegranates have
naturalized in the coastal areas of the United States.
The pomegranate plant form is that of a small deciduous tree or large shrub, growing up to 25
feet tall. Pomegranates are multi-stemmed unless pruned to a single trunk. Originally grown for
their fruit, they are also known for the beautiful flowers that can occur for several months in the
spring and early summer. Most commonly, they are red-orange, but white, pink, and variegated
flowers may also be found. Double-flowering types have blossoms that are carnation-like.
Pomegranates are also useful for large hedges. Their foliage is shiny and dark green, and the
stems are somewhat thorny.
Native to Arabia, Persia, Bengal, China, and Japan, pomegranates are sometimes hardy as far
north as Washington, D.C., but are best adapted to the Deep South, where they have escaped
cultivation in the Gulf Coast states.
Pliny considered pomegranates to be among the most valuable of ornamental and medicinal
plants. Theophrastus provided an early description about 300 years before the Christian era.
Many legends concerning the pomegranate have been handed down by Asian people. The many
seeds are supposed to be a symbol of fertility. Legend also says that the pomegranate was the
'tree of life' in the Garden of Eden, and from this belief it became the symbol of hope and eternal
life in early Christian art. The erect calyx-lobes of the fruit were the inspiration for Solomon's
crown and for all future crowns.
Pomegranates were often found in nineteenth century Southern gardens and nurseries. In his
"Southern Rural Almanac," and "Plantation and Garden Calendar for 1860," Thomas Affleck
listed them in his Washington County, Texas nursery, and said, "The pomegranate grows,
thrives, and bears most admirably."
For a period in the early 1900s, pomegranates were grown in commercial quantities in the U.S.,
but consumers have never really developed an appreciation of the pomegranate fruit. One of the
few varieties still available is 'Wonderful', which, if picked and aged at room temperature for a
month or two, will develop the rich, sweet taste characteristic of better-quality fruit varieties.
Although of very easy culture, pomegranates prefer a sunny location and deep soil. They thrive
in acid or alkaline soils, and tolerate heavy clay as long as there is sufficient drainage. Many
forms exist, and not all fruit well. Generally, double-flowering types provide little, if any, fruit.
Mature specimens withstand drought well, but fruit often splits after rainy spells following
extended dryness. Dormant hardwood cuttings root well (as do softwood cuttings) under mist in
In addition to eating fresh (it is very seedy), the fruit may be used in the preparation of syrups
(especially grenadine), alcoholic beverages, and jellies. Plants of the dwarf and large-growing
forms are sometimes available in the southern half of Texas. Plants tend to be long lived, but
occasionally they freeze back to the ground. Interesting trials with pomegranates from Iran and
Russia are being conducted in the Houston area by fruit specialists who believe that some of the
plants may have superior fruiting, growth, and hardiness characteristics.