Plant Collector: Chaenomeles

022Not quinces, as most people think, but chaenomeles or japonica apples. At this time of the year, the hanging golden orbs are a most attractive feature. I like to bring a bowl indoors because they are scented, in an aromatic apple-y sort of way and they last for many weeks. The plant itself is a deciduous, scrubby shrub, maybe 2 metres tall and, after many years, 4 metres wide. It has burglar deterrent possibilities with its ferocious spines but is not a thing of natural beauty beyond its attractive fruit in autumn and its lovely single, deep pink japonica flowers in spring. It will have been a named form that was purchased but the name is lost in the mists of time. It appears to be a hybrid – a cross between 2 of the 3 different species, selected for both flower colour and fruit and is most likely to be in the Chaenomeles x superba group. We have other forms that flower well but don’t fruit in the same manner.

Chaenomeles are native to Japan, eastern China and Korea. Unsurprisingly, given their long thorns, they are related to roses and in the roseaceae family.

The fruit is far too astringent to eat raw. I have been given a jar of japonica jelly but it was not memorable. Apparently they are very high in pectin so I may try boiling some down to use as a base for orange marmalade. I tried making chaenomeles brandy one year and it was fine, but we are not so keen on liqueurs in this household. I would rather drink the brandy without the year steeping with sliced chaenomeles and sugar.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.