Plant Specialist: Punica Granatum

Try dwarf pomegranates, Punica granatum, in containers or in the landscape

March 16, 2012

‘Orange Blossom Special’ is a dwarf pomegranate with multi-season interest.

What started out as a test for a great, new edible ornamental shrub, turned into the discovery of a hardy and charming landscape choice.

My colleague Mark Griffith and I were comparing notes on cold hardiness of Punica granatum Purple Sunset and ‘Orange Blossom Special.’ Plant Introductions Inc. (PII) introduced them in 2009 with the thought they would fit under the edible ornamentals canopy. Our sampling procedures consisted of tasting a few seeds followed by subsequent grimacing and growling.

So much for “edible,” however, these derivations of an Atlanta Botanical Garden dwarf form labeled ‘ABG Hardy,’ offer superior ornamental traits for containers, mixed borders or as flowering shrubs. The bright orange flowers develop on new growth of the season and continue in quantity, particularly on ‘Orange Blossom Special,’ into October. Additionally, both selections have attractive fruit, are pest free and are easy to grow.

‘Orange Blossom Special’ offers vivid flowers from spring through frost.

Showy specimens
The foliage of both is delicate and refined. With Purple Sunset, the foliage typically emerges bronze-purple, becoming shiny bright green then turning a beautiful butter-yellow in autumn. I noticed that the leaves were just emerging in late March 2011, slightly earlier than usual. Flowers initiate in May in USDA Hardiness Zone 7, and as long as new growth is fostered, the flowers will continue into autumn.

Fruit measures about 1-1½ inches wide, and are continually forming. With ‘Orange Blossom Special,’ the abundance of fruit will weigh down the branches. Red and green fruits remind of the StaymanWinesap apple in their shape and color on ‘Orange Blossom Special.’

Fruits of Purple Sunset are longer than they are wide, and eggplant-purple in color. They are quite colorful, and coupled with the orange flowers, would make a great Halloween sales item. Readers might chuckle at this idea, but when Bonnie and I visited several Long Island, N.Y., garden centers in October, there were abundant Halloween bric-a-brac, minutia and gifts—so why not market plants?

Plant evaluations
PII has evaluated Purple Sunset and ‘Orange Blossom Special’ for three years in-ground and in our partners’ gardens. Purple Sunset is cold hardy to about 10°F without any dieback, while ‘Orange Blossom Special’ is injured at this temperature. We estimate Zone 7 for Purple Sunset and Zone 8 for ‘Orange Blossom Special.’

Purple Sunset offers a striking combination of orange flowers and purple fruit.

We think ‘Orange Blossom Special’ would make a great bedding plant because of the more abundant flowering throughout the growing season.

Both selections grow best in full sun and well-drained soil. ‘Orange Blossom Special’ has a moderate to fast growth rate.

‘Orange Blossom Special’ has been licensed to the Southern Living Plant Collection.

At PII, we constantly theorize about how to improve ornamental plants via breeding. Toward that goal, Punica granatum germplasm in different flower colors, fruit sizes and colors, growth habits, and hopefully cold hardiness were sourced, evaluated, and crosses consummated by plant breeder Josh Kardos. In 2011, a large population of open-pollinated and controlled hybrid seedlings flowered and set fruit.

One of our major goals with pomegranate is a sweet fruit, a plant that’s a reasonable size, offers a unique color, as well as striking and abundant flowers on a compact framework. Based on the various accessions PII has evaluated, the opportunity to achieve the above goal is legitimate.


For more: Plant Introductions Inc.,


Michael A. Dirr, a retired horticulture professor from the University of Georgia, is co-founder of Plant Introductions in Watkinsville, Ga.