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The dwarf pomegranate is a diminutive cousin to the larger pomegranate trees called Punica granatum, which are renowned the world around for juicy seeds that explode in the mouth with sweet and tart flavor. Called Punica granatum var. nana, these pygmy trees grow fruit about half the size of ordinary pomegranates, which can be eaten — though they are more sour than sweet. But these trees are mostly prized by landscapers and bonsai enthusiasts for their coveted miniature form.
A full-size pomegranate tree can grow as tall as 30 feet (about 10 m) and create fruit as big around as 5 inches (about 12.5 cm). Originating in Iran, the fruit has a storied history of use in literature, religion, culinary traditions and homeopathic remedies throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean. Several cultivars have been developed through the centuries, the Wonderful variety originating in Florida, the Kabul in Afghanistan, and the Spanish Ruby in California.
The dwarf pomegranate is one of the more prized cultivar for bonsai trees. Its larger specimens might grow to 8 feet (about 2.5 m), and its fruit might be 2.5 inches in diameter (about 6.4 cm), but it can top off much smaller than that with the proper pruning and a little bonsai expertise. Though some are kept as landscaping plants in regular soil, many are kept in pots. Both environments are suitable for this hardy plant, which thrives best when kept moist.
This plant can be cultivated from seeds and cross-pollinated to bear fruit, or it can be propagated by replanting pruned branches. Sunlight and water should be plentiful for the dwarf pomegranate, but the soil does not have to be ideal, as the plant has been known to grow just fine over rocks and fallen branches. Like most of the other pomegranate species, the dwarf pomegranate thrives in warmer, more arid climates with alkaline soil — climates that do not drop far below 20°F (about -3.9°C). In North America, this is epitomized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's hardiness zones nine and 10, encompassing parts of Texas, California and Florida.
Aside from bonsai and landscaping potential, the tangier seeds of the dwarf pomegranate can be thrown in fruit salads or eaten one after the other, all by themselves. In Ayurvedic medicine and other herbal traditions, many cultivars of pomegranate have been used for a few millennia at least to ward off digestive disorders, condition the skin, strengthen the heart, and reduce blood pressure. It can also be used to condition leather.