"Eat the pomegranate," sententiously said the prophet Muhammad, "for it purges the system of envy and hatred." Far earlier than in the days of Muhammad, however, was this fruit esteemed in the Orient. King Solomon possessed an orchard of pomegranate bushes; and when the Children of Israel, wandering in the Wilderness, sighed for the abandoned comforts of Egypt, the cooling pomegranates, along with figs and grapes, were remembered as longingly as the fleshpots.
It is with the grape and the fig that the pomegranate has been associated since the earliest times; but while in the East it still vies with them in popularity and importance, in America it occupies a minor position. Probably this is due: first, to the abundance here of other good fruits; and, secondly, to something in the character of the pomegranate which makes it particularly agreeable to inhabitants of hot arid regions. For this latter reason it might appeal in this country to a relatively small number; but even in the desert valleys of California and Arizona, where it should be most acceptable, Americans have not yet learned to appreciate it fully.
About 150 acres are now planted commercially to pomegranates in California. The total production in the United States, according to the census of 1910, is about 150,000 pounds.
If allowed to develop naturally, the pomegranate becomes a bush 15 to 20 feet in height. By training, it can be made to form a tree, usually branching close to the ground. It is semi-deciduous or deciduous in habit. The leaves are lanceolate to oblong (sometimes obovate) in form, obtuse, about 3 inches long, glossy, bright green, and glabrous. The handsome brilliant orange-red flowers are axillary, solitary, or in small clusters, and borne toward the ends of the branchlets. The calyx is tubular, persistent, five- to seven-lobed; the petals, five to seven in number, are lanceolate, inserted between the calyx-lobes. The ovary is embedded in the calyx-tube, and contains several locules in two series, one above the other.
The fruit is globose or somewhat flattened, obscurely six-sided, the size of an orange or sometimes larger, and crowned by the thick tubular calyx, giving an ornamental effect. It has a smooth leathery skin, which in the ripe fruit ranges from brownish yellow to red in color. Thin dissepiments divide the upper portion into several cells; below these, a diaphragm separates the lower half, which in its turn is divided into several cells. Each cell is filled with a large number of grains, crowded on thick spongy placentas; these grains, which are many-sided and about 1/2 inch long, consist of a thin transparent vesicle containing reddish juicy pulp surrounding an elongated angular seed. The pulp is delightfully subacid in flavor.
Alphonse DeCandolle reached the conclusion that the "botanical, historical, and philological data agree in showing that the modern species is a native of Persia and some adjacent countries," an opinion which is generally accepted at the present day. The cultivation of the pomegranate, which began in prehistoric times, was extended, before the Christian era, westward to the Mediterranean region and eastward into China. At the present time it is a common fruit in India, Afghanistan, Persia, Arabia, and near the shores of the Mediterranean both in Europe and Africa, more particularly the latter. In America it is scattered from the southern United States to Chile and Argentina, probably reaching its greatest perfection in the arid regions of California, Arizona, and northern Mexico.
Throughout tropical America the plant is common in gardens and dooryards, but in many places it is grown more for its ornamental value than for its fruit. In humid climates the fruit is inferior in quality.
The ancient Semitic name rimmon has been adopted by the Arabs as rumman, and later the Portuguese roma or roman was formed from it. From the early Roman names malum punicum (apple of Carthage) and granatum have been taken the botanical name Punica Granatum, L., under which the species is known scientifically, and the common name granada, used throughout Spanish-speaking countries. From this same source, evidently, are the French grenade and the German granatapfel. Of the several names current in Hindustan anar is the commonest; darimba is the Sanskrit name. The Persians know the pomegranate-flower as julnar.
The fruit is peculiarly refreshing in character, hence is much eaten in hot countries. It is also used to prepare a cooling drink known as grenadine; but the beverage dispensed under this name in the Mediterranean region and tropical America commonly is colored and flavored artificially. The roots of the plant and the rind and seeds of the fruit are used medicinally in the Orient. The classical Arab lexicographers define the pomegranate as: "a certain fruit, the produce of a certain tree, well known; the sweet sort thereof relaxes the state of the bowels, and cough; the sour sort has the contrary effect; and that which is between sweet and sour is good for inflammation of the stomach, and pain of the heart. The pomegranate has six flavors, like the apple, and is commended for its delicacy, its quick dissolving, and its elegance."
In the United States the fruit has been more highly valued for its decorative effect than for other purposes. It is used on banquet-tables and as an adjunct to fruit salads. The principal chemical constituents of the pulp, as determined in Hawaii by Alice R. Thompson, are as follows: Total solids 17.52 per cent, ash 0.73, acids 0.13, protein 0.52, total sugars 16.07, fat 0.30, and fiber 0.32.
While the pomegranate can be grown throughout the tropics and subtropics, it produces good fruit only in semi-arid regions where high temperatures accompany the ripening season. In this respect it somewhat resembles the date-palm, although it is less exacting as regards heat than the latter and more frost-resistant. Like the palm, it requires plenty of water at the root, if good fruit is to be produced in abundance; nevertheless, it is able to withstand long periods of drought. Minimum temperatures of 15° or 18° above zero may not injure the plants severely. The sour varieties are said to be hardier than the sweet. No climate is too hot for the pomegranate, provided it receives ample water.