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Permaculture Plants: Quince Tree





  • The quince – an almost forgotten fruit.

    Common Name: Quince

    Scientific Name: Cydonia oblonga
    Family: Rosaceae

    Cutting a quince can be tough – use a sharp knife and be careful.
    Description:

    This ancient relative to the apple resembles yellowed, large, lumpy, more pear-shaped, and slightly fuzzy apples.  The fragrance of a few ripe quinces can fill a room with an intoxicatingly sweet aroma.  These are small trees or large shrubs that are treated much like apples in cultivation.  At least once in the late autumn or early winter, I will make an apple-quince pie with currants, and it is one of my favorite holiday desserts.  The smell in the kitchen when I have the quince poaching in sweet wine with vanilla beans is heavenly.  I can’t wait to grow my own quinces, because I can’t always find them in grocery stores.  Fortunately, they will stay fresh in the refrigerator for over a month, so I grab them when I see them.


    Painting of a quince – Pancrace Bessa (1772-1835)

    History:
    The Quince Tree is native to the central and eastern Middle East.  The cultivation of the quince likely preceded that of the apple, but it is difficult to ascertain.  Early writings which referred to the “apple” were likely referring to the quince instead.  The city-state of Kydonia on the island of Crete was where the quince was improved to the level we know today.  The scientific name of the quince is Cydonia and is an alternate spelling of Kydonia.
    Trivia:

    • True Quince (C. oblonga) should not be confused with “Flowering Quince” (Chaenomeles japonica) or the “Chinese Quince” (Pseudocydonia sinensis) which are more ornamental.
    • Some believe the “forbidden fruit” in the Garden of Eden was a quince
    • The Quince is associated with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.
    • The Quince is known as the “fruit of love, marriage, and fertility”.
    • The Quince was given as a gift to the bride to sweeten her breath before entering the bridal chamber.
    • The Quince is likely the “apple” in the Song of Solomon and the “golden apple” that Paris awarded Aphrodite.
    • The word “marmalade” originally meant a quince jam and is derived from the Portuguese word “marmelo” – the Portuguese word for quince.
    • Quince will change color from pale yellow to light pink or even deep red when cooked.
    • Turkey produces one quarter of the world’s quinces.
    The “fuzz” is more apparent on some varieties than others.

    USING THIS PLANT
    Primary Uses:
    • Fresh eating – only certain varieties.  Most need to be cooked first to get rid of the astrigency
    • Poached
    • Baked Goods
    • Preserves, Jams, Jellies (great addition of flavor and aroma when mixed with other fruits; naturally high in pectin)
    • Stewed with meats especially lamb, duck, and turkey
    • Teas
    • Wine, Cider


    Secondary Uses:
    • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
    • Specimen plant – beautiful, fragrant blossoms and older plants develop gnarled trunks
    • Due to the intense fragrance, quince can be used as a room deodorizer
    • Quince leaves contain high levels of tannin and can be used for tanning
    • Quince are regularly used as rootstock for pears


    Yield: 1 bushel (35 liters), 75 lbs
    Harvesting: September – November.  Pick when the fruit is firm, fully yellow colored (no green), and fragrant.
    Storage: Will store in a cool place (like a refrigerator) for 1-2 months.  Handle carefully as quinces can bruise easily even when hard.

    Cydonia oblonga – Franz Eugen Kohler (1897)
    DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

    USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9
    AHS Heat Zone: 9-3
    Chill Requirement: 50-450 hours/units depending on the species and variety
    Plant Type: Small Tree to Medium-sized Shrub
    Leaf Type: Deciduous
    Forest Garden Use: Canopy Tree for small Forest Garden, Sub-Canopy (Understory) Tree, Shrub
    Cultivars/Varieties: Many varieties available.  New varieties are resistant to many common diseases.
    Pollination: Self-Pollinating/Self-Fertile
    Flowering: May-August depending on the variety and USDA Zone where it is planted

    Life Span:
    Years to Begin Bearing: 3-5 years, depends on the rootstock.  Smaller adult plants will bear sooner.
    Years to Maximum Bearing: 5-10 years
    Years of Useful Life: No good references for this, but considering its size and relatives, it can likely live to be at 30 years and maybe over 50 years

    The quince blossom is much larger than that of apples.
    PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

    Size: 10-20 feet (3-7 meters) tall and wide
    Roots: Shallow and flat
    Growth Rate: Medium

    An older, but still very productive, quince tree.
    GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

    Light: Prefers full sun
    Shade: Tolerates light shade (about 50%)
    Moisture: Medium, however will be more susceptible to pests and disease in the shade
    pH: most species prefer fairly neutral soil (6.1 – 7.0)
    Special Considerations for Growing: Tolerates juglone (natural growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut and its relatives).  Consider using this tree as a buffer between your walnuts and other plantings.
    Propagation:  Usually grafted.  Will often root from cuttings. Seeds need at least 13 weeks stratification for germination

    Maintenance:

    Minimal.  Quince fruit mainly on the tips of shoots made the previous year.  After the initial framework is established (much like an apple tree), minimal pruning is required.  Light pruning to let in more light and air circulation will improve yields.

    Concerns:
    • Poisonous – Leaves and seeds contain a precursor to cyanide (large amounts need to be eaten for this to be toxic).
    • Humid environments are ideal for quince leaf blight – consider resistant varieties.  This is the only significant disease for the quince.
    • Since it is such a close relative to apples, many diseases and pests that affect apples can cause trouble for quinces, but usually at a much reduced rate since apples are a “weaker” plant.
    A beautiful quince pie.

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