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Prized Pomegranates Undergo Scrutiny of Nursery Staff, Growers

By Marcia Wood
July 22, 2004

Imagine sweet, juicy pomegranates that are pink or yellow on the outside instead of the familiar red. These fruits are so unusual that you probably haven't seen them in the local supermarket's produce section.

But that could change, depending on what orchardists, treefruit breeders and plant nursery staffers learn from growing samples of unique pomegranates that they've obtained from America's official pomegranate collection. Headquartered at Davis, Calif., this treasure trove of the delicious, fun-to-eat fruit is part of the National Clonal Germplasm Repository for Fruit and Nut Crops. The repository and other collections make up a nationwide network that's managed by the Agricultural Research Service--the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

Specialists working with cuttings from pomegranate trees in the collection will share what they've learned about the best strategies for helping these distinctive trees thrive at fruit farms in the United States. Pomegranate cuttings, if they adapt well, will take root and form sturdy, shrublike trees that will bear flavorful fruit in about three years. That's according to research geneticist and interim curator Mallikarjuna K. Aradhya.

The ARS pomegranate collection, with more than 150 different kinds of pomegranates from around the globe, is likely the most diverse, publicly owned assortment of pomegranates in the United States. This ARS repository safeguards samples of the world's pomegranates to ensure that the genetic richness or diversity of this fruit won't be lost, even if groves of wild pomegranates on other continents are inadvertently destroyed, or if new commercial varieties displace older heirloom ones.

In the repository's sunny orchards, pomegranates range from light pink to deep orange, burgundy red or golden yellow on the outside. Pomegranates are low in calories and sodium; provide vitamin C, potassium, and fiber; and are rich an antioxidants.