Ajuntament de Barcelona

Cydonia oblonga

Miramar Garden and Camí dels Cims

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    Species characteristics
    Western and central Asia
    Riparian forest at a maximum height of 1,400 m

    Deciduous shrub 4-6 m tall, with winding trunk, irregular crown irregular and flexible, spotted dun branches, which are tomentose when young. The bark is smooth and greyish and over the time it comes out into sheets.

    The leaves, 5-11 cm long and 3.5-7.5 cm wide, are entire and ovate to rounded, with a short petiole. The upper side is green and the lower side is ash coloured and tomentose (covered by hairs making a kind of down).

    The hermaphrodite white or pink flowers, 3.5-5 cm in diameter, are solitary and axillary and have 5 petals.

    The fruits (quinces) are very fragrant ovoid or pear-shaped pomes, 5-10 cm in diameter. As long as they are not ripe, the quinces are green and covered by a dense light grey down, which comes out when rubbed; as they ripen, they lose the down are become golden yellow. The yellowish rough pulp is very hard and fragrant and contains many seeds.

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    Uses and properties: 

    Although quince fruit is edible, it has to be boiled before consumption because of its hardness, astringency and sourness. Its astringent properties, as well as tonifying and stomachals, see its use in medicine.

    In popular culture, it was kept in between clothes to impregnate them with its perfume.

    The many seed it has are covered with a gelatin used in pharmacy and the perfume industry to make a hair softener and straightener.

    Its white-pink wood is also used in cabinet making.

    Besides these uses, in floristry and gardening, quinces are used as inserts in other fruit trees.

    History and curiosities: 

    The scientific name, Cydonia oblonga, consists of the genus name Cydonia, coming from the Greek κυδώνια, “quince”, reduced form of μήλα κυδώνια, “apple from Cydonia (Crete)”, where the more appreciated quinces came from, and the Latin term oblonga, “oblong”, in reference to the leaf shape.

    The cultivation of quinces could be anterior to the one of apples (which were already cultivated in Babylonia in 4000 BC) and it seems possible that some of the old tales and texts where there are apples were actually referred to quinces. That is the case of the apple in the biblical Song of the Songs or the Greek mythological golden apples from the Hesperides’ garden and of the judgement of Paris. This confusion is not a surprising one having into account that in ancient cultures quinces often were called with related to apple names: the Greek knew the quinces with the name μήλα κυδώνια, “apple from Cydonia” —the more appreciated quinces came from Cydonia, at the North-western Cretan coast—, and one of the three quince varieties mentioned by the Roman writer Columella was named mela aurea, “golden apple”.

    In Ancient Greece, quinces were offered at weddings, a rite which came from the East with the cult to Aphrodite and remained holy. Both in Greece and in Rome, the quinces were commonly ate: in Apicius’s cooking book (1st c. AD), there are recipes to cook quinces with honey and mix them with leeks and in his Natural History (1st c. AD), Pliny the Elder cites a quince variety which could be eaten raw.

    For further information: 

    LÓPEZ GONZÁLEZ, Ginés A. Los árboles y arbustos de la Península Ibérica e Islas Baleares. (2 vol.) Madrid: Mundi-Prensa, 2001

    THE ROYAL HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY. Enciclopedia de plantas y flores. Barcelona: Grijalbo, 1996