pomegranate (pŏmˈgrănĭt, pŏmˈə–) [key], handsome deciduous and somewhat thorny large shrub or small tree ( Punica granatum ) belonging to the family Punicaceae, native to semitropical Asia and naturalized in the Mediterranean region in very early times. It has long been cultivated as an ornamental and for its edible fruit. The fruit, about the size of an apple, bears many seeds, each within a fleshy crimson seed coating, enclosed in a tough yellowish to deep red rind. Pomegranates are either eaten fresh or used for grenadine syrup, in which the juice of the acid fruit pulp is the chief ingredient. Grenadine syrup, sometimes made from red currants, is a flavoring for wines, cocktails, carbonated beverages, preserves, and confectionery. The astringent properties of the rind and bark have been valued medicinally for several thousand years, especially as a vermifuge. The pomegranate is now cultivated in most warm climates, to a greater extent in the Old World than in America; in North America it is grown commercially chiefly from California and Arizona south into the tropics. The fruit has long been a religious and artistic symbol. It is described in the most ancient of Asian literature. In the Old Testament, Solomon sang of an "orchard of pomegranates." Because of its role in the Greek legend of Persephone, the pomegranate came to symbolize fertility, death, and eternity and was an emblem of the Eleusinian Mysteries. In Christian art, it is a symbol of hope. Pomegranates are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Myrtales, family Punicaceae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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