Wednesday Weed – Flowering Quince

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles x superba)

Dear Readers, whenever you read a book about winter-flowering shrubs, flowering quince is sure to be one of the top five. It is, however, a confusing plant. For one thing, it isn’t the ‘true’ quince (Cydonia oblonga), although it is related to it. All quinces flower, so there is nothing unusual in the fact that this one is in bloom. It is also known as the Japanese quince, which is a little closer to the mark as all Chaenomeles come from the Far East, but the true Japanese Quince (Chaenomeles japonica) is rarely grown in gardens. In short, the common names for the plant do nothing but pile confusion on top of confusion. However, I forgive all this because, in a chill, sunny day earlier this week, this plant was by far the prettiest thing in Hampstead Garden Suburb.

One feature of the flowering quince is that the flowers emerge directly from the stalk, before the leaves. It was the first time that I’d seen a pink variety – the ones in the County Roads here in East Finchley are normally the orange-red variety.

Photo One from https://www.flickr.com/photos/conifer/38844133980

Orange-red flowering quince (Photo One)

Flowering quince also has the virtue of being quite a spiny plant (it is a member of the Rose family after all) and I have seen it combined in hedges with such well-armed shrubs as Pyracantha. It is quite often ‘persuaded’ into miniaturisation as a bonsai.

Let us not completely overlook the fruits either. They are hard, sour and small, though this is ameliorated somewhat after the first frost. However, they can be used as a substitute for lemon juice, or turned into jelly, much as crab apples are. The Grown to Cook website has a recipe for Japanese quince jelly with star anise, and the photos are lovely too.  In Japan the fruit is known as karin or flower pear, and commands a high price, so if you have one of these shrubs in your garden I’d have thought it would be worth harvesting the fruit to see what you can do with it. Some websites recommend combining it with apples to offset its astringency. Note that it is also extremely high in pectin, so helps with the set of jams and jellies.

Photo Two from http://www.growntocook.com/?p=36

Quince jelly on bread. Yum! (Photo Two)

In Japan, the fruit of flowering quince is also used to make cough and sore throat remedies. The botanist James Wong mentions that for Japanese people, Chaenomeles cough sweets take the place of our honey and lemon. He also mentions that Russian scientists introduced the plant to the Baltic states as a source of vitamin C – the fruits have a slightly higher level than lemons – and so the plant is sometimes known as ‘Baltic lemon’.

What I love about flowering quince, though, is that element of surprise. In late spring, when everything is bursting into bloom, you might not notice this plant. But in winter, when the only competition is the acid yellow flowers of Mahonia, it is breathtaking. It was eulogised by one Miss Twamley who, in a poem called ‘The Romance of Nature’, refers to the flowers as ‘fairy fires’

‘That gleam and glow amid the wintery scene
Lighting their ruddy beacons at the sun
To melt away the snow…..’

Flowering quince features extensively in the art of Japan. Here, for example, is the artist Watanabe Seitei’s painting ‘Japanese Thrush with Flowering Quince and Wild Cherry’ – I love that the flowering quince in the image looks so similar to the one that I saw.

Japanese Thrush with Flowering Quince and Wild Cherry by Watanabe Seitei (Shotei) 1906 (Public Domain)

Now, as you know I usually include a poem at this point, but this week I am going to break convention by directing your attention to the (very) short story ‘The Japanese Quince’ by John Galsworthy. What on earth is going on here? I have some thoughts, but I’d be delighted to hear yours, if you have the time and the energy during this pre-Christmas rush…

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Japanese_Quince

Photo Credits

Photo One from https://www.flickr.com/photos/conifer/38844133980

Photo Two from http://www.growntocook.com/?p=36

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “Wednesday Weed – Flowering Quince

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I know! They are always quite alarming to prepare, much like pumpkins. I am always imagining that a trip to A&E will be required, what with my excellent knife skills and all….

      Reply
  1. Sarah

    I was interested to see that the Japanese Quince is “the birthday flower for 21st December”. I’ve never heard of birthday flowers before, and would like to know mine! Sadly a Google search hasn’t made me any wiser. I love the John Galsworthy story. It seems to be about the sadness of living a life divorced from nature and human connection. I hope Mr Nilson and Mr Tandram took their frock coats off and had a picnic, but I don’t suppose they did.

    Reply
    1. Liz Norbury

      It is also hinted that Mr Nilson feels imprisoned in a dull marriage – his wife has mistaken his yearning for a more natural and fulfilled life as a physical illness and called in her doctor. After I’d read the story, I had a faint memory of a quote from The Forsyte Saga about love as a wild plant. Thanks to Google, I’ve managed to trace it, about 20 years after I read the book! “Love is not a hot-house flower, but a wild plant, born of a wet night, born of an hour of sunshine; sprung from wild seed, blown along the road by a wild wind. A wild plant that, when it blooms by chance within the hedge of our gardens, we call a flower; and when it blooms outside we call a weed; but, flower or weed, whose scent and colour are always, wild!”

      Reply
      1. Bug Woman Post author

        Ah, interesting. Yes, there is a sense of stultifying domestication, isn’t there. Well done for finding the quote, what a good memory you have!

    2. Bug Woman Post author

      And yes, I think the story is about being impoverished, but is there also a sense that the first man thought he was somehow unique in being able to appreciate the garden, and was somewhat perturbed to find that he wasn’t? Such a simple story, with so many levels…

      Reply
  2. Sarah Ann Bronkhorst

    Sarah’s right about the story, I think. The two men are wealthy but spiritually impoverished. Maybe they are related to some of those dreadful Forsytes. A nice little animation could be made of the story; it’s so visual.

    Reply
  3. tonytomeo

    Those are SO classic. I sometimes see them regenerate in the gardens of new homes that were build on the sites of old homes. Even after the old gardens are gouged out, some of the old classics regenerate. They are truly ‘sustainable’ but are surprisingly uncommon in nurseries. We have a few here. We intend to pry a few rooted sideshoots off to make more copies of them.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      They are absolutely gorgeous, aren’t they. What time of year do they flower in your part of the world? One of the big bonuses in the UK is that they are in flower when pretty much nothing else is….

      Reply
      1. tonytomeo

        The earliest bloom in late autumn, although I do not know of any blooming yet. Some bloom in winter, and the latest might bloom in spring. The old cultivars tend to bloom in winter. Modern cultivars bloom a bit later in very early spring. Some stick to a tight schedule. Others might bloom later or earlier than they typically do. Consequently, they do not always bloom in the same sequence.

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