Baffled by the quinces? If so, you are not the only one, as these genera have confused plant collectors for years. The jumble of names began in 1784 when botanist Carl P. Thunberg saw a flowering quince growing in Japan. Thinking it was a new type of pear tree, he named it Pyrus japonica. In 1807, Christiaan H. Persoon noticed that fruit of this plant had many seeds so it did not belong to the genus Pyrus. Thus, flowering quince became known as Cydonia japonica for a while. However, in 1822, John Lindley created the genus Chaenomeles to distinguish the flowering quince, which had stamens in two rows, from Cydonia with stamens in one row and also had different fruit anatomy. Perhaps, an easier way to distinguish these genera is that Chaenomeles is usually planted as an ornamental shrub with showy flowers (Figure 1) whereas Cydonia oblonga is grown for its fruit (Figure 2).
Today, Cydonia oblonga or the common quince is sold as a grafted tree, reaching about 15 to 20 feet-tall at maturity. Flowers are borne on the terminal portion of new growth and are usually self-pollinated. Trees are commonly trained to a vase shape and require little pruning when mature except for the removal of suckers. Because trees are susceptible to fire blight, they require light nitrogen fertilization to avoid excessive vegetative growth. The fruit is aromatic, yellow, and relatively large, about 3.5 to 4.5 inches long (Figure 1). Because of the fragrant fruit, these trees attract deer. The cultivar 'Jumbo' has white-fleshed fruit whereas 'Orange' has more rounded, orange-yellow flesh. 'Pineapple' has white flesh with a pineapple-like flavor, and 'Smyrna' has pink flowers and fruit with waxy, yellow skin. Raw quince fruit is bitter and acidic, but it sweetens and is more palatable when cooked, especially when poached. It is also used in jellies, tarts, or pies. Quince is also used to impart unique aromas, desirable bitter flavor, and astringency to fermented or hard cider.
Cydonia oblonga has also been used as a dwarfing rootstock for European pear planted at high density. 'Comice' pear trees grafted onto quince rootstock begin bearing fruit at a young age and have regular cropping with good fruit size and quality. However, quince rootstock has poor compatibility when grafted with 'Bartlett' or 'Bosc' pear.
Flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa, is a much more common shrub in the home landscape, ranging from three to five feet tall. These plants have tangled branches that produce showy flowers for about 10 to 14 days in early spring. Flowering quince shrubs are drought resistant and cultivars with brightly colored blooms cultivars attract hummingbirds. Plants are often damaged by rabbit feeding, but are not particularly attractive to deer. Some of the more popular flowering quince cultivars are the Double Take series developed by Tom Ranney and his group in North Carolina, including 'Scarlet Storm', 'Orange Storm', 'Pink Storm', which have thornless branches, double flowers, and do not produce fruit. Cultivars with spines on branches, such as 'Texas Scarlet' with red flowers, 'Toyo-Nishiki' with white, pink, and reddish blossoms, and 'Jet Trail' with white flowers, usually produce small (1.5 inch-long), sparse fruit that may be used for jelly (Figure 3).
REVISED: February 21, 2017