Pomegranates – the mythological super fruit here in Florida
What interesting type of fruit can you grow for an edible landscape in central Florida? Many of the tropical fruit that people associate with Florida are not quite hardy enough here. We have just enough cold to prohibit some tropical fruit, and not quite enough to grow some of the northern type fruit, unless you get varieties bred by UF for the south (think blueberries and peaches). The pomegranate is a fruit that is perfectly suited to this area and it is a fruit steeped in mythology as well as currently being touted for its high antioxidant content.
The pomegranate is a Mediterranean fruit, although it originated from an area around northern India. It is an ancient fruit with references to it in the bible and ancient Persian, Hindu, and Egyptian writings. In Greek mythology Persephone eats a few of the arils after she is captured by Hades and taken to the underworld, and thus dooms the earth to a month of winter for each aril she ate. What is an aril? The fruit is kind of strange with a hard outer shell and a spongy inside that holds the arils that are edible. The arils are small jewel-like juicy seed coverings that range from ruby red to pink or even white. The seed inside the aril may be hard, as in the commonly found variety ‘Wonderful,’ to soft and edible. The arils may be eaten whole (with or without the seed) or juiced. The juice is acidic with lots of polyphenols, antioxidants, anthocyanins, and vitamins C, K and folate. The arils and seeds are used in many ethnic foods and were widely used in Mediterranean cuisine as an acidic fruit before the tomato was introduced from the new world.
How to Eat
Getting the arils out of the whole fruit to eat may be daunting. There are YouTube videos on an easy technique. First the top is cut off, the fruit is scored along the outside, and the fruit pulled apart for easy access to the juicy arils inside. You may also be able to purchase the pre-separated arils in plastic clamshell containers rather than having to go through this process.
How to Grow
Pomegranates have been developed for ornamental flowers as well as delicious fruit. The plant grows into a small tree or large shrub. It naturally wants to form a many-trunked shrub, but for best fruit production you should select a single trunk or no more than four multi-trunks. You will need to remove suckers that come up every year to maintain this shape. For fruit production the plant is usually kept below 6 feet for ease of harvest, and three to five main branches on each trunk are selected by pinching back the shoots. Each winter shorten the branches to 3/5 of their length and remove dead, damaged or crossing branches and sprouts leaving two or three shoots per main branch. Fruit may be so heavy on the branches that some growers use a trellis to support the fruiting branches and thin the fruit to one per cluster of flowers. The plant is very drought-tolerant and may develop root rots if grown in too wet an environment. The fruit naturally break open at maturity to release the seeds, an undesirable habit if you wish to harvest the fruit without rot. Excessive rain or irrigation can cause the fruit to crack as can sunburned fruit skin. Careful control of watering and sun exposure should help to decrease this problem.
More information on growing pomegranates in Florida can be found at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg056. Enjoy growing and eating this historic fruit in your backyard.