Pomegranate, Punica granatum, is thought to have been native to Iran through to the Himalaya in northern India, but was widely cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region during Ancient Greek and Roman times. It has a particular connection to the Andulacian region of Spain that I'm visiting in coming weeks.
The city of Granada, home to the hauntingly beautiful Alhambra, is said to have been named after the pomegranate, which in Spanish is called granada (from the Latin word for seed, granta). Alternatively the name of the city is a corruption of its Moorish name Karnattah, or Gharnatah, meaning something like 'hill of strangers'. We'll assume the former for the purposes of this post but the Moors had a special connection to this place, holding until 1492 and after the rest of Spain had fallen to the Christian invaders.
The common name, pomegranate, is a century or two older than the fall of Granada. As you might have guessed, the pome refers to an apple and its origin is Old French, from around the the start of the fourteenth century it seems. As I've mentioned, granata (grenate in Old French, grenade in modern French) means seed, so it was quite reasonably termed the 'apple with lots of seeds'.
The plant, or at least its fruit, is clearly evocative when it comes to place naming. The north African city of Carthage was originally called Punica by the Romans: it was said to be the source of the best pomegranates at the time.
With its woody outer layer, the fruit travels well, and was carried through the deserts of this region as source of refreshment. It is of course added to various parts of a meal to add colour and bling.
The plant itself is tough and long-lived. Specimens at Versailles are thought to be 200 or so years old and you see the scrubby remains of bushes around old homes in Australia that are presumably a century or so in age.
Various parts of the plant are used to treat diarrhea and stomach problems, and tannins have been extracted from bark, leaves and fruit. Not surprisingly, the fruits and flowers are a source of red dye.
It's an odd plant botanically, classified in its own family, the Punicaceae. Other than Punica granatum, there is only one other species, Punica protopunica from the island of Socotra (home to lots of other weird and wonderful plants such as the Dragon Tree, the giant succulent tree Dorstenia gigas and Frankinsense).