1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pomegranate

POMEGRANATE. The pomegranate (Punica Granatum) is of exceptional interest by reason of its structure, its history, and its utility. It forms a tree of small stature, or a bush, with opposite or alternate, shining, lance-shaped leaves, from the axils of some of which proceed the brilliant scarlet flowers. These are raised on a short stalk, and consist of a thick fleshy cylindrical or bell-shaped calyx-tube, with five to seven short lobes at the top. From the throat of the calyx proceed five to seven roundish, crumpled, scarlet or crimson petals, and below them very numerous slender stamens. The pistil consists of two rows of carpels placed one above another, both rows embedded in, and partially inseparate from, the inner surface of the calyx-tube. The styles are confluent into one slender column. The fruit, which usually attains the size of a large orange, consists of a hard leathery rind, enclosing a quantity of pulp derived from the coats of the numerous seeds. This pulp, filled as it is with refreshing acid juice, constitutes the chief value of the tree. The more highly cultivated forms contain more of it than the wild or half-wild varieties. The great structural peculiarity consists in the presence of the two rows of carpels one above another (a state of things which occurs exceptionally in apples and oranges), and in the fact that, while in the lower series the seeds are attached to the inner border or lower angle of the cavity, they occupy the outer side in the upper series, as if during growth the upper whorl had become completely bent over.

Britannica Pomegranate Flowering Branch and Fruit.jpg

Fig. 1. — Pomegranate, Punica Granatum, flowering branch, half natural size.
1, Flower cut lengthwise; the petals have been removed. 3, Same cut across, showing seeds.
2, Fruit, about one-third natural size. 4, Seed, natural size.

Britannica Pomegranate Floral Diagram.jpg Britannica Pomegranate Ovary Section.jpg

(After Eichler, from Strasburger's Lehrbuch der Botanik, by permission of Gustav Fischer.)

Fig. 2. — Punica Granatum.
A, Floral diagram. B, Longitudinal section of the ovary.

By Bentham and Hooker the Punica is included as an anomalous genus in the order Lythraceae; others consider it more nearly allied to the myrtles; while its peculiarities are so great as, in the opinion of many botanists, to justify its inclusion in a separate order, Punicaceae. Not only is the fruit valuable in hot countries for the sake of its pulp, but the rind and the bark and the outer part of the root (containing the alkaloid pelletierine) are valuable as astringents. The bark of the root is likewise valued as an anthelmintic in cases of tape-worm.

The tree is wild in Afghanistan, north-western India, and the districts south and south-west of the Caspian, but it has been so long cultivated that it is difficult to say whether it is really native in Palestine and the Mediterranean region. It has been cited as wild in northern Africa, but this appears to be a mistake. Professor Bayley Balfour met with a wild species, heretofore unknown, in the island of Socotra, the flowers of which have only a single row of carpels, which suggests the inference that it may have been the source of the cultivated varieties. But, on the other hand, in Afghanistan, where Aitchison met with the tree truly wild, a double row of carpels was present as usual. The antiquity of the tree as a cultivated plant is evidenced by the Sanskrit name Dddimba, and by the references to the fruit in the Old Testament, and in the Odyssey, where it is spoken of as cultivated in the gardens of the kings of Phaeacia and Phrygia. The fruit is frequently represented on ancient Assyrian and Egyptian sculptures, and had a religious significance in connexion with several Oriental cults, especially the Phrygian cult of Cybele (Arnob. v. 5 seq.; see also Baudissin, Studien, ii. 207 seq.). It was well known to the Greeks and Romans, who were acquainted with its medicinal properties and its use as a tanning material. The name given by the Romans, malum punicum, indicates that they received it from Carthage, as indeed is expressly stated by Pliny; and this circumstance has given rise to the notion that the tree was indigenous in northern Africa. On a review of the whole evidence, botanical, literary and linguistic, Alphonse de Candolle (Origin of Cultivated Plants) pronounces against its African origin, and decides in favour of its source in Persia and the neighbouring countries. According to Saporta, the pomegranate existed in a fossil state in beds of the Pliocene epoch near Meximieux in Burgundy. The pomegranate is sometimes met with in cultivation against a wall in England, but it is too tender to withstand a severe winter. The double-flowered varieties are specially desirable for the beauty and long duration of their flowers.