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Pomegranates of the World Housed in Unique California Collection

By Marcia Wood
October 16, 2001

The pomegranate's crunchy seeds, covered with a slippery, sweet-tart pulp, make this fruit unusual and fun to eat. Pomegranate is good for you, too. It’s low in calories and sodium, and provides potassium and vitamin C.

America’s official genebank for different kinds of pomegranate from around the globe is located at Davis, Calif., northeast of San Francisco. Agricultural Research Service horticulturist Charles J. Simon, curator of the collection, says the genebank has what is almost certainly the most diverse assortment of pomegranates in the United States.

Simon credits George A. White of Beltsville, Md., a former curator at the Davis genebank, for expanding the pomegranate collection. White built it from a modest 10 specimens, called accessions, toward its current total of 145 by acquiring pomegranates from hobbyists and others. He gathered additional specimens by trekking to Turkmenistan, in the former Soviet Union, on a plant-collecting expedition with pomologist Dan E. Parfitt of the University of California at Davis.

Pomegranate fruit vary in size from smaller than a baseball up to a medium-sized cantaloupe, according to Simon. The rind, or exterior, comes in an assortment of colors, including yellow or deep-orange to nearly red. Inside, the little sack of pulp around each seed can range from nearly colorless through yellow and orange to almost beet-red.

The Davis genebank where Simon works is called the ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository for Fruit and Nut Crops. Simon and his staff are responsible for collecting and safeguarding a genetically diverse assortment of pomegranates as well as more than a dozen other crops. The genebank is part of a nationwide system of plant repositories managed by ARS, the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.