Plant Rant: What Pomegranate is it?

Plant Rant: What Pomegranate is it?

I have to have a bit of a horticultural rant today, which has to do with plant labeling…or rather mislabeling. When planting fruit trees, it can take at least a few years for plants to establish and begin to bare quality fruit. So it’s pretty frustrating after all that time only to end up with the wrong cultivar.

Sometimes it happens because plant tags get knocked off at big box store nursery’s and then reattached to the wrong tree. Worse yet, maybe the correct label was never attached in the first place, and this is one reason I no longer buy any fruit trees from big box stores. Scions at exchanges can also get mixed up. I have had the problem with mislabeling multiple times over the last two decades with a variety of plants, not just fruit trees. Today I am griping about one of my pomegranate trees.  I always thought my oldest pomegranate was a variety called ‘Sweet’ until fall 2016 when I began to have doubts.  

Unknown sweet pomegranate
My sweet pomegranate is on the right, next to Gulosha rosavaya on the left. The ruler and quarter are for size comparison. The color can vary a bit, depending on how much sun the fruit gets.
Sweet pomegranate
The outside on this one is closer to what some online sources show for sweet, but its not typical. This was a piece of fruit from the North side of the tree, so it has less red coloring on the outside. On the inside of the fruit, the arils are all about the same color, regardless of where on the tree was picked. This was a picture from 2016.

I selected the variety, ‘Sweet’, mainly based on Sunset Western Garden book’s recommendation of it for a cool summer climate.  After a few years of harvesting fruit, I am thinking somewhere in the supply chain, the tags or name may have got mixed up. It is sweet, but I don’t think it is “Sweet.”  It doesn’t ripen much of its fruit in September/ late summer when Sunset and other authoritative sources say it should.  Some of its pomegranates are fine then, but most continue to improve in color and ripen fully into late October to Early November.  We just picked the last of them yesterday.  I wish I knew if it is actually “Sweet” but just ripens later in my yard since we are coastal and lack high temps much of the year. Generally, the color of most of the fruit is not a great match to the few pictures of ‘Sweet’ I have seen posted online.  I would say the dominate color of the fruit on my tree is rosy red.  The color is somewhat lighter on fruit that gets less sun or grows on the North or East side of the tree, or fruit picked early. Its fruit size is gigantic, similar to a grapefruit and often a pound or more. The seeds are red to dark red but not what I would call “seedless”.  They are edible and can be chewed, but definitely not as tender as I would expect from a variety often described as almost seedless, as ‘Sweet’ was.  Maybe it is soft seeded. I didn’t think anything of it for the first couple of years and just chocked it up to the fact pomegranates take a while to reach maturity and then produce their ideal fruit.  

Sweet Pomegranate
A picture of the fruit on my sweet pomegranate next to quarter and a plain red sharpie. I took this picture last year in 2016. This fruit is from the West side of the tree in more sun. This is one of the smaller fruits. They get bigger than this, but this was a pretty one.

In fall 2016 I heard L.E. Cooke, a great wholesale nursery, was sadly going out of business, so I decided to browse through their product listings to see what backyard fruit trees I might want to acquire before they were no longer easily available, at least not outside of scion swapping other CRFG members.

I came across their point of sale flyers and saw a variety called ‘Austin’. It seems to match the description of my tree much better.  The retail nursery I bought my pomegranate tree from used to get a lot of their fruit trees from L.E. Cooke in Visalia.  Here is a link to the flyer with Austin. I think I got the wrong tree, but I really can’t be sure.  I am not willing to plant a second tree of Austin or Sweet right next to it for comparison, like irises collectors do to determine the identity of a NOID. I am not saying I hate my tree.  My next door neighbor says it is superior to ‘Wonderful’, which she feels is TOO tart.  My daughter says its flavor is kind of boring.  Basically, it’s just sweet. I think it tastes a lot like a fruit punch drink. 

For now, I plan to keep the tree. It might actually be ‘Sweet’ but I will just refer to it as “a sweet” pomegranate. For me, one of the frustrating things about it being possibly mislabeled is I won’t be comfortable bringing any scionwood from this tree when I attend any of the 2019 CRFG scion exchanges later this winter.  

I am curious if any other local gardeners are growing the ‘Sweet’ variety and have had similar results with color or timing or if my tree IS mislabeled. If you have had similar mislabeling issues with other plants, please leave a comment.  Its nice to know I am not alone. Well, enough complaining on my part.  Thanks for putting up with my rant. 


3 thoughts on “Plant Rant: What Pomegranate is it?

  1. Lianne: I have always loved your posts. I am really sad to hear the L.E. Cooke is going out of business. I am the woman from Riverside who bought some of your Bababerries (It was my grandmother, Baba, who patented and propagated them). Her first commercial contract for the Bababerry was with L.E. Cooke who had so much demand for it, they couldn’t keep up. I spoke with them soon after I bought your plants (5 years?) and they were still interested in them but wanted 200 plants. Right… Sadly, my gardener weed whacked my berries before they had a chance to grow much and they never came back. I was heartbroken. If ever you have any extras, please let me know. Erin Thomas

    1. Hi Erin,

      Of course I remember you! I hope you are well. And thank you for the compliment.

      Sorry, I don’t have any Bababerries to share. But happily they are available in retail again since it had an excellent reputation as a SoCal Raspberry.

      Although L.E.Cooke wasn’t propagating them in the last decade, Dave Wilson Nursery started selling them at independent nurseries about 3, maybe four years ago. I am guessing they acquired their starts from the germplasm in Corvalis, Oregon. Corvailis has Baba, along with many other long forgotten raspberries, there. I came across it there when I was considering patenting the thornless raspberry. I decided not to patent it, mainly due to expense and legal fees. If you are needing replacements of Bababerry, check your closest local small nursery in January. The closest nursery to me, H & H in Lakewood, sells Bababerry, but only during the winter months to early spring. They get them in when they also get bareroot trees in.

      In addition, the O.C. Chapter of CRFG has sold them at their January scion exchange the last two years. I would guess they will again this year. However, since I am not on the board, I am not privy to the order they usually place with DWN and can’t guarantee they will have them.

      Link to Bababerry at the National germplasm

    2. Another option for Babas is Bay Laurel Nursery in Atascadero (SLO County), CA. It is local to me, but they ship all over and are a very reliable and reputable nursery. You can place your order now and get as many as you wish!

I would love to know what you think about this.

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