Chaenomeles speciosa

flowering quince

The Flowering Quince An Old Fashioned Shrub for Early Color By Kim E. Tripp The NCSU Arboretum (now the JC Raulston Arboretum)

Spring is on its way - there's a bit of softness in the air, a tease of sunshine in the mornings and, here and there, the beginning of Spring's colorful show of flowers. Flowering Quince, Chaenomeles speciosa, is one of the first to greet us with a burst of color. In the Southeast, this unassuming shrub blooms delightfully anytime from January through March. The grey-brown branches are spangled with waxy flowers in opaque shades of orange-red, rose, pink or white. The individual flowers are borne right on the branches and are reminiscent of stout apple blossoms, but their waxiness lends them an earthier character. A hedge of Flowering Quince in full bloom can be a very striking burst of coral in the grey days of early Spring.

This deciduous, broadly spreading shrub grows anywhere from 6 to 10 feet tall and spreads as wide. It is a twiggy and tangled, multi-stemmed plant that makes a good barrier or hedge but which can also be a trap for dead leaves and other debris. Flowering Quince will tolerate a wide range of soil and site conditions (including dry areas) but will suffer if planted in high pH soils. These shrubs are hardy throughout North Carolina and most of the Southeast but they do not perform well in the more tropical areas like southern Florida. Flowering Quince is susceptible to Fire Blight disease and should therefore not be planted where it could infect a commercial orchard. Leaf spot can also be a problem during wet periods which may cause some defoliation but rarely leads to any permanent damage. For best growth and flowering, plant Flowering Quince in full sun and prune out the old canes and suckers every year. If flowering is sparse, try pruning the entire plant down to 6 to 12 inches from the ground. Pruning should be done in March to April, after flowering, so as not to damage the flowering potential for the following year. Flowering Quince can be propagated from softwood cuttings taken in Summer which should be treated with rooting promoters and rooted under mist. Old clumps gradually spread by suckering and they can be dug and divided like herbaceous perennials to obtain additional plants. The Spring flowers are the Flowering Quince's best feature. They have a unique, fresh appeal as they are among the earliest flowering shrubs. The new leaves emerge a bronzed, reddish color which turns a glossy green, but there is no real fall color. There is no striking Winter interest but the densely twiggy character of the plant makes a good shelter for birds and other small wildlife (while successfully keeping out the neighbor's dog). Flowering Quince is a relative of the edible Quince, Cydonia oblonga, and does produce small, quince-like fruits, albeit in a somewhat miserly fashion. The fruits are truly awful when eaten fresh but do make tasty preserves.

There are a number of Flowering Quince cultivars of special interest. 'Cameo' bears lovely, double, peach colored blooms in great profusion. 'Spitfire' is an upright form with bold, bright red flowers. 'Contorta' has a contorted growth habit that adds greatly to the Winter interest of this cultivar. Flowering Quince is readily available in many nurseries and garden centers where it offers an inexpensive and undemanding treat of new Spring color.

Flowering Quince is a bit of an old-fashioned workhorse in the garden. It is not rare, nor does it offer year round excitement. Instead, it faithfully braves the unpredictable early Spring to greet us with a straightforward, eyecatching display of warm color. The NCSU Arboretum (now the JC Raulston Arboretum) is a good place to see a number of Flowering Quince cultivars, including the vivid 'Spitfire' and the fascinating 'Contorta'. Come visit and look for this uncomplicated but delightful shrub with its welcome greeting of Spring color.