At the present time there is still some confusion between the genus Chaenomeles and the genus Cydonia. To aggravate the matter, certain nurserymen persist in using the name Pyrus, or even Japonica, when referring to either of these genera. An English botanist, John Lindley, convinced of the superiority of the “natural” system of classification of A. L. Jussieu over the “artificial” classification of Linnaeus, proposed in his Vegetable Kingdom -the new genus Chaenomeles. The name is of Greek origin, from chainein and melon (apple), in other words, a gaping fruit. This does not appear to be a very happy choice because sooner or later most fruits split open when ripe, but it is well known that botanists have never been blessed with much imagination.
The genus Chaenomeles is native to the Far East and there are four known species. The first species was found by Carl Peter Thunberg on Mt. Hakone in Japan, and described by him in as Pyrus japonica. Later, Sir Joseph Banks introduced another species from China and for a long time the two plants were confused and known by various names. Today they are called, respectively, Chaenomeles japonica and Chaenomeles speciosa. According to the testimony of John Claudius Loudon, chaenomeles was already common in English gardens, where it was grown as a bush or a standard., the plant had a period of great popularity and a French nursery listed more than forty varieties; today only about a dozen are cultivated. Of the two species, Chaenomeles speciosa is the earlier flowering and the most spectacular because it blooms before the leaves appear. Its flowers create a greater effect on the bare stems than those of Chaenomeles japonica which, although prolific, come later simultaneously with the foliage. On the other hand, chaenomeles has a second season in autumn “when it is often covered with golden- yellow fruits, and sometimes bears a few late flowers.” The fruits of both species are strongly and deliciously fragrant, so much so that, according to the testimony of Loudon, the fruits used to be placed among linen and clothes, in wardrobes and drawers, in the same way that dried lavender is used today. It is sufficient to place a ripe fruit in a bowl to perfume an entire room. Raw they are not edible, but the value of their gastronomic virtue can be judged by an amusing incident which took place during World War, when jam was difficult to obtain. Mr. W. J. Bean, curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, collected fruits of Chaenomeles japonica and of six different varieties of Chaenomeles speciosa for an experiment. They were given to the Reverend J. Jacob, Vicar of Whitewell, With a- church, Gloucestershire, who used them to make a type of jelly. Each variety was kept bottled separately, labelled, and submitted to a panel of judges at a specially organized tea party. The jelly made of the fruits of Chaenomeles japonica was unanimously acclaimed the best and, according to the Vicar, it was as enjoyable as that great delicacy, guava jelly; while the flavor of the Chaenomeles speciosa jelly differed from variety to variety. In Germany, Japanese quinces are often used to make jam, with better results than that made from true quinces and it is traditional to eat it at Christmas. The late E. A. Bowles, one of England’s greatest gardeners, recommended serving jelly made from Japanese quinces as a condiment for meat, in the same manner that red-currant jelly is often eaten with jugged (stewed) hare in England.
Cultivation. The flowering quinces are not difficult to cultivate, although large specimens dislike being moved and take a long time to recover after being replanted. They thrive in any normal fertile soil, both acid and alkaline, and require a sunny position. The species can be propagated easily from seed, which should be stratified,* and will often bloom the second year. Garden varieties, however, must be propagated by means of cuttings or by air layering. Cuttings should be made from half-ripened wood in early autumn and placed in frames or in an unheated greenhouse. Plants can also be increased by means of the numerous suckers or basal growths which generally appear round the parent plants; they are also particularly easy to propagate by ground layering, which should be done during the summer. The rooted layers can be detached from the parent plant the following spring. Propagation is also possible by means of root cuttings. In England the plants are often grown as espaliers against a wall; the effect is delightful and the wall protects the early flowers which can be damaged by strong wind. They are also suitable for cultivating as large individual specimen shrubs, preferably on a lawn, or for growing against low railings, balustrades, etc. The plants also make an effective and unusual informal hedge. With plenty of space, the plants can be left to develop naturally without pruning, otherwise, they should be pruned after the flowering period, and the new growths can be cut back to within two eyes from the point where they join the main stem. The plants should be trained so that they will take on a wide, spreading habit; occasionally some of the longer outer branches should be pegged down to the ground, away from the centre of the plant. Dead, weak, or deformed growths should be removed regularly. Plants that are pruned flower with greater freedom, and better-shaped specimens will be obtained. If left to their own devices, the plants develop a much-branched, somewhat complicated, confused mass of interlacing branches which, however, have a certain charm. In alkaline soils (where rhododendrons, azaleas, mountain laurel, etc., cannot be grown), flowering quinces offer an excellent substitute, providing a rich display of spring color not inferior to that provided by rhododendrons and azaleas. Cultivation is also much easier since they are plants with few demands or special needs. As they are deciduous they should be associated with some evergreen shrubs because their mass of contorted brown-barked branches is not very decorative in winter. Evergreen shrubs suitable for this purpose are evergreen barberry or broom (in mild climates), Viburnum tinus or Viburnus davidii, Teucrium fruticans, etc. Because of the intense, vivid coloring of flowering-quince blooms (blood-red, scarlet, pink, vermilion, orange-scarlet), they should be associated with shrubs bearing white or pale-colored flowers such as spiraea, forsythia, flowering crab, any of the prunus, Magnolia stellata, or heather. They should never be grown in the vicinity of the rich pink- or red-flowered Japanese cherries or flowering peach, or the more vividly colored flowering crabs, all of which bloom at the same time.