What Are Pomes?

Medlars, a pome varietal, on a wooden table
Jean-Blaise Hall, PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images

Despite different textures and tastes, apples, pears, loquats, medlars, and quinces are all types of pome.

The plants that bear pomes belong to the apple subtribe, called Malinae, of the rose family, Rosaceae. The much larger rose family includes peach trees, strawberry plants, flowering almond trees, and hawthorn bushes.

Shared Traits

Pomes all share certain structural similarities. Like strawberries and figs, pomes are accessory fruits: Their edible flesh forms not only from the ovary but from other parts of the flower. Accessory fruits are distinct from aggregate fruits (e.g., berries) and simple fruits (e.g., nuts).

Fused carpels (the female reproductive organs of the flower) encase the seeds to form each pome's core. The endocarp (a tough, fibrous flesh) surrounds the seeds, and the softer mesocarp (the pome's edible flesh) encases the endocarp. The pome's epicarp (the skin) protects the edible flesh.

Pome Trees

Trees that bear pomes are deciduous, shedding their leaves in the fall and lying dormant in the winter. These trees flower in the spring, then bear fruit in the summer. Harvest usually occurs in the late summer and early fall.

Uses for Pomes

People have been eating pomes for millennia. Scholars estimate that nearly 60 percent of pomes grown throughout human history were cider fruits rather than dessert fruits. In fact, hard cider was the most popular and accessible alcoholic beverage in the United States until the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Prohibition dealt a fatal blow to many American apple orchards, and beer has since become the country's drink of choice.

Pome Growth

Pomes are particularly well-suited to interspecies grafting: A single pome rootstock can support nearly 20 cultivars. Apples, pears, and Asian pears are often grown on the same tree—not only does this ensure variety, but it protects the fruits from certain diseases and pests.

Of course, apples are the most popular type of pome in Europe and America, followed closely by pears and Asian pears. Horticulturists have developed hundreds of cultivars of each species, though a few specific ones dominate the market.

Loquats are a hardy species that grow best in a warm, subtropical climate and enjoy widespread popularity in the Middle East and Asia. North American loquats are usually ornamental plants since cold temperatures prevent the fruit from developing a sweet, pleasant flavor.

Medlars, quinces, and rowans were popular fruits in Europe for many centuries but fell out of favor as apples and pears were cultivated to produce more flavorful fruit in larger numbers. Quinces can still be found in some specialty markets, but medlars and rowans are no longer grown commercially.

List of edible pomes:

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Asian pears
  • Quinces
  • Loquats
  • Rowans
  • Medlars
  • Crab apples