Mission and Objectives
The pomegranate has a certain natural appeal because it is such an unusual fruit, one that is quite different from the common fruits such as bananas and apples consumed in the U.S. Part of its appeal may relate to its long history of cultivation. The pomegranate is an edible fruit of antiquity that ranks right along with the date, fig, and olive. Also, there is considerable current consumer interest in pomegranate because of its reputation as a healthy fruit and juice.
The major producers of pomegranate are India, Iran, Turkey, and Spain, and in the U.S, California is the major grower. The reputation of pomegranate has benefitted considerably from the aggressive marketing effort of a California company and their product, POM Wonderful® which is derived from the ‘Wonderful’ cultivar. Their efforts have greatly raised the awareness of pomegranate.
The pomegranate is native to regions of the Middle East (Persia, e.g., Iran), and Southeast Asia (e.g., Turkmenistan and Afghanistan), areas with relatively cold winters and arid, but hot summers. The species is not generally considered to be suitable for climates such those of the southeastern U.S. where the winters can be cold, but the weather is humid during the warmer months of the year. Nevertheless, pomegranates have been a dooryard plant in South Georgia and Florida for decades. We have discovered plants in the Florida Panhandle area near Marianna and Perry that are ca. 100 and 80 years old, respectively. However, the origin of many dooryard plants is unknown. Furthermore, as we have visited nurseries to add plants to our collection, it became clear that it would be helpful to establish a collection of known cultivars and begin a systematic evaluation of their potential in Florida.
Determining the commercial potential of pomegranate in Florida has never been attempted. Therefore, we initiated a pomegranate project with these objectives:
1. Collect pomegranate selections and cultivars and establish mother blocks.
2. Propagate from the collection and provide plants to interested grower.
3. Establish cooperative projects and evaluate the selections.
We chose these objectives because, while it is already apparent that pomegranate plants will grow in at least central Florida and northward into southern Georgia, it is not known whether the plants will produce acceptable quantities of good quality fruit especially for commercial purposes. We see these options:
1. Fresh fruit grown conventionally or organically. Particularly intriguing would be to grow the fruit as a small farm enterprise and market it locally.
2. Fruit grown by either method for juice which might alter the cultural program towards less use of pesticides. Particularly appealing with this option is to grow fruit for juicing in a small retail outlet and possibly blending with other juices such as blueberry or peach. Equipment for countertop operations to produce single glasses of juice or small quantities for bottling is readily available via the internet.
3. Pomegranates grown as an ornamental for the homeowner and the Edible Landscape.
4. Produce fruit for extracting and marketing of the arils. A brief search of the internet will reveal the variety of commercial equipment available for juicing the fruit and extracting and packaging arils.