For those who like a unique brightly colored specimen tree, shrub, or hedge in their yard, this one’s for you. The flashy flowers are bright red with a hint of orange and are real attention grabbers. Hummingbirds love them too. Fruit is edible and nutritious. Pests and diseases are not normally a problem either.
The plant to which I refer is the pomegranate. Drought and salt tolerant, they are well adapted to our sandy soils and thrive in full sun. Soil pH should not be acid like for blueberries and they respond well to fertilizer.
Narrow glossy leaves are pointed at the ends and turn yellow in the fall. Some branches may have spines. Plants are blooming right now and the tube-shaped flowers are over an inch long. Cross-pollination is not necessary but it will improve fruit set, so having two different cultivars could be a plus.
When it comes to usage in the landscape pomegranates are among the more versatile woody plants. If trained to a single trunk they can achieve heights of up to 25 feet. They can also be sheared into a six to eight-foot hedge and thrive. Some varieties are even dwarf types that get no taller than three or four feet. Probably most typical use is as a multi-stemmed specimen tree 8-12 feet tall.
Fruits usually ripen in the fall but sometimes over a wide time period. When the blossom end of the fruit begins to turn slightly brown fruits are mature. Usually they make a hollow metallic sound when tapped with a fingernail.
One question that always arises with pomegranates is how to eat them. Inside each fruit are membranous walls that harbor fleshy, juicy, red to pink edible morsels. Each one contains a seed that is also edible. Some cut the hard shell in two halves and eat the fleshy pellets.
My favorite method is to lay intact fruits on a hard surface and roll them around using firm but controlled force. After a few minutes the fruit softens and then I place it over a glass and prick a hole in the skin. Deep red juice emerges and I have my prize.
Pomegranates have a long history of medicinal uses. Recently, these fruits have been linked to lower blood cholesterol levels. Likely much of this is due to high concentrations of antioxidant chemicals called polyphenols. In fact, pomegranates may have even more antioxidant power than cranberry juice or green tea.
Research using pomegranates to fight prostate cancer is ongoing. Among other things antioxidants help prevent and repair DNA damage that can lead to cancer.
Pomegranate juice has also been used in weight loss programs, specifically to control belly fat. Other studies link consuming pomegranates to healthy skin. This is probably tied to antioxidants. Another study indicates pomegranate use may reduce cortisol levels. Cortisol is associated with stress.
The same study also found that a daily glass of juice increases testosterone levels which can boost sexual desire in both men and women. Testosterone can also boost memory and calm nerves.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.