Pomegranate trees are ornamental, healthful
Published: Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 2:39 p.m.
Q: I understand that we can grow pomegranates in Florida. Do they need special care, and where can I find a tree or two?
A: Pomegranates absolutely grow in Florida. In fact, there was once a small (pomegranate) industry in the state in the 1800s. Mostly now they are grown as a backyard fruit tree, but with increasing evidence of the health benefits of pomegranates, we will probably see more of them locally grown at markets soon.
Pomegranates are an evergreen tree that reaches 12 feet in height. They want to grow to be a large shrub, but with pruning you can train them to a single trunk. The leaves are dark green and 1 to 2 inches long, and the stems they grow on can be a tad thorny, so don't plant them too close to a sidewalk or walkway. This southern European native is often grown as an ornamental because of the flaming red flowers that the tree produces during the spring and the summer. These flowers are visited by bees and hummingbirds. Pomegranates will thrive in different soil types and will tolerate alkaline soils, but perform best in neutral to slightly acidic soil. They have been known to withstand temperatures into the low teens, and can certainly take our Florida summer heat.
Following the beautiful flowers will be the leathery skinned fruit. If the flower is well pollinated, the fruit will reach a size of 3 inches in diameter. The outer flesh of the seeds, or the aril, is what is eaten. There may be hundreds of arils in a single fruit. The juice from the pomegranate is tart and rich in anthocyanin. The syrup grenadine is made from pomegranate juice. Be sure to harvest the fruit when they are full sized but before the skin splits. If the pomegranate skin splits, the flesh dries out and it is no longer edible.
Most nurseries that sell fruit trees also will sell pomegranates. Ask for varieties like Wonderful or Spanish Ruby. For more information on pomegranates, visit the UF/IFAS information website, www.solutionsforyourlife.com, or call the Alachua County Master Gardener desk at 955-2402.
Q: I have a plant that was given to me as a night-blooming cereus. I now have been told that it is really an orchid cactus. The plant has long, wide, green leaves with no thorns and no stems, and it blooms the most amazing white flowers, but only at night. What is it?
A: The common names, "night blooming cereus" or "queen of the night," actually refer to several kinds of different cacti that have gorgeous night-blooming flowers. The few different types of night-blooming cereus were all grouped under the same genus many years ago, but have since been broken into their own genera. The plant that you are growing is most likely an orchid cactus or Epiphyllum oxypetallum. They have long flattened leaves with wavy edges and round stems. These are really easy to propagate, and often shared with gardening friends.
The Selenicereus grandiflorus, or what is most often referred to as night-blooming cereus, has thick ridged stems with thorns, and they are aggressive climbers. There is a specimen in Alachua County that has nearly reached the top of an old live oak tree. I have never seen that one in bloom, but the blooms are said to be magnificent.
There is one other cactus that could be called a night-blooming cereus. It is called the Hylocereus undatus or the "queen of the night." This is the vining cactus that produces the delicious dragon fruit that is now being commercially grown in South Florida. There are others in the Hylocereus genus that produce beautiful cactus flowers as well.
Your potted orchid cactus or Epiphyllum is easy to grow, but they are cold sensitive, so protect it from freezing temperatures. Keep the plant in bright but not direct sunlight. Let the soil dry out between waterings, and fertilize a few times a year. Then, when you see buds forming, call your friends over for an evening of cactus flower watching.
Wendy Wilber is an extension agent with UF/IFAS. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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