Also called Japanese quince or Japonica, the flowering quince (genus Chaenomeles) is closely related to the rose (family Rosaceae). The plants have been grown ornamentally in Asia for thousands of years, and in Europe and the United States since at least the 1800s. Some are also pruned to become bonsai.
Flowering quince are spiny shrubs. They are deciduous, losing their shiny, dark green leaves yearly. Quince is a spreading shrub, reaching height and width of up to 15 feet. Some smaller, compact cultivars remain only six feet in height.
Flowers of the flowering quince may be single, double, or semi-double in design. These usually appear in late winter or early spring, in shades of scarlet, pink, orange, or white. Apple-like autumn fruits follow the flowers, ripening when yellow. The flavor of the fruit has been described as tart and astringent, but they can be used to make jellies and pastries.
The flowering quince is a native of eastern Asia, including Japan, Korea, and China. It can survive in a variety of environments, form urban areas with shallow soil, to humid subtropical zones, to areas prone to drought.
The genus Chaenomeles contains three species, and these have been bred into numerous cultivars. The following are among the most common garden varieties.
“Cardinalis” grows to 15 feet and bears vivid red single flowers. These give way to fruit that is greenish yellow when ripe.
“Moerloosei” grows to 15 feet. Single flowers are white with flushes of pink.
“Nivalis” bears single pure white flowers and grows to a height of 15 feet. Fruit ripens when yellow.
“Pink Lady” is a smaller variety, typically reaching six feet in height. Flowers are reddish pink and fruit ripens when yellow.
Plant in full sun to partial shade. The quince is winter hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9, and can withstand conditions of drought. This plant will accept a variety of soil types, with the exception of extremely wet soil. During prolonged drought, watering will aid in normal growth and flowering. Flowering quince are able to accept heavy pruning.
The flowering quince can also be wall trained. This involves constructing a wire form in the shape in which you want the plant to grow. This is placed near a wall, with a few inches in between for air circulation. As the plant grows, it is trained along the wire form, much as a bonsai is trained. When fully grown, the tree will appear to be splayed flat against the wall.
In autumn, flowering quince produce edible fruits. These may be enjoyed by local wildlife or harvested to make pies, jellies, and jams. The fruit is said to have higher concentrations of vitamin C than do lemons. The plant itself is also used as a food source by the caterpillars of some butterfly species. Native birds also next in the dense, thorned branches.
Because of its height and spread, flowering quince can be used as a shade “tree,” possibly lowering energy costs. For best results, plant approximately 12 feet away from an air conditioning unit or on the westerly side of a building. Temperatures can be up to 10 degrees cooler when shaded by treelike plants, easing energy costs and reducing strain on cooling equipment.
Flowering quince can also be used as an ornamental informal hedge. Space the plants so that branches will overlap two to three feet when mature, and trim as needed.
Flowering Quince Quick Facts
Height 15 feet
Lifespan Long-lived perennial
Flowers Five petals, up to 2 inches in diameter
Seeds Found in apple-like fruit up to 6 inches long
Leaves Shiny and dark green, alternately arranged, simple with serrated margins.
Regions Zones 5 through 9, including California, the Midwest, the eastern seaboard, and the southeast
Species C. speciosa, C. cathayensis, C. japonica