Chaenomeles is one of the most versatile and exotic flowering plants you can grow in your garden. Also known as prickly quince, this particular species of flowering tree offers gardeners and landscaping enthusiasts an incredible mix of color brimming with life. Its luxuriance defies the seasons with its magnificent pink or white petals always in motion and the great variety of its morphology.
This article will analyze the Chaenomeles from all aspects: from the botanical curiosity to the aesthetic impact; from the peculiar characteristics to the recommended techniques for the excellent success in the floral decoration of your green space! So, if you want to grace your private corner by relying on an iconographic touch that is both classic and surprising, you can’t choose better than Chaenomeles

Botanical curiosity: The origin of the name

The name by which this plant is known was originally used by Theophrastus, one of the most important ancient Greek naturalists. Its name  comes from the ancient Greek, meaning “plant with jagged fruits”. The flowers of this plant are part of different cultural traditions around the world. For example, in India, the flowering of Chaenomeles is considered an auspicious omen for the harvest season. The Japanese festival “Kanamara Matsuri”, an annual event dedicated to love and union, sees this plant as the protagonist: during the festival, the Japanese faithful carry a large horse-drawn cart in procession on which a large idol is placed covered with Chaenomeles flowers.

In Europe, the species Chaenomeles japonica became widespread as an ornamental garden plant in the 18th century. In the 19th century, it also became popular as a subject for botanical miniatures made by botanists of the time. However, the exact origin of the name Chaenomeles is not known: some scholars believe that the name may be a reference to the ancient Greek myth according to which the gods would have led the family of men to Olympus aboard a covered horse-drawn chariot with the flowers of this plant. Other scholars instead affirm that the name can be traced back to the ancient Greek chaenos which meant “divided” or “separate”.
Whatever its origin, the name Chaenomeles remains linked to this special garden plant. Its fragrant flowers have been attracting the attention of all lovers of beauty and botany for several centuries. And just as it was for Theophrastus in antiquity, even today these little floral gems are a way to remember the magic and enchantment of the plant world.

Species of Chaenomeles

Caenomeles includes about ten species.
These are shrubs with a compact shape with oval, leathery and thorny leaves. The flowers grouped in clusters are red, orange or yellow, depending on the species. The fruits are hard berries, usually red in colour. The Chaenomeles species are generally easy to cultivate and being rustic they can tolerate rigid temperatures down to around -15°C. It is a genus suitable for gardening, both for the beauty of its spring flowers and for its autumn scents and fruits.


1. Chaenomeles japonica Chaenomeles japonica (thunb.)

It is a deciduous shrub that can reach 2.5 m in height and width. The leaves are oval with toothed and spiny-serrated margins. The flowers are in globular clusters and can be red or yellow, depending on the variety. The fruits are round berries, red or dark pink, with a diameter of about 1 cm. This species is particularly resistant to low temperatures and also grows well in partial shade.


2. Chaenomeles speciosa Chaenomeles speciosa (Sweet)

It is an evergreen shrub that can reach 4 m in height and 2 m in width. The leaves are ovate, glossy and spiny-serrated; the flowers also come in globular clusters, with yellow or orange colors depending on the variety. The fruits are oval or round berries, red or dark pink in color with an average diameter of about 1 cm. This species is quite cold hardy and also tolerates partial shade conditions well.


3. Chaenomeles cathayensis Chaenomeles cathayensis (Rehder)

It is an evergreen shrub that can reach 3 meters both in height and in width. The leaves are oval with wavy and spiny-serrated margins; the flowers are usually of an intense red color arranged in globular clusters. The fruits ripen in autumn and are oval in shape with an average diameter of about 1 cm. Also this species is resistant to cold temperatures down to -15°C and is particularly adaptable to different climatic conditions.


4. Chaenomeles x superba Chaenomeles x superba (Lodd.)

It is the hybrid between C. japonica and C. speciosa and has the characteristics of both parental species; the height can reach 3 m and has oval-shaped leaves with spiny-serrated margins; the yellow or orange flowers appear in globular clusters; the freshly ripened fruits have an oval shape with an average diameter of about 1 cm and can vary from red to deep pink depending on the variety. This hybrid also resists low temperatures well and only needs direct sunlight to thrive at its best.


Hybrid varieties

Expert horticulturists have created many hybrid varieties that derive from two or more different parents; most hybrid varieties have characteristics similar to those of their parent species but may be more productive in terms of flowering or fruit productivity as well as being more resistant to common diseases; here are some:

• Chaenomeles x superba ‘Crimson and Gold’ : vigorous plant with orange-yellow fragrant flowers;

• Chaenomeles x superba ‘Toyonishiki’: deciduous shrub with reddish flowers;

• Chaenomeles x superba ‘Cameo’ : evergreen plant with white flowering clusters;

• Chaenomeles x superba ‘Pink Lady’: vigorous shrub with fragrant salmon-pink flowers;

• Chaenomeles x superba ‘Orange Beauty’: evergreen plant with intense orange scented bunches;

• Chaenomeles x superba ‘Sargentii’ : deciduous shrub with intense purple scented bunches.


Care and maintenance

All plants need some care and maintenance to thrive, but this is not a difficult task to perform with a Chaenomeles. Listed below are some tips to ensure the best health and maximum growth of your Chaenomeles. It prefers well-drained soil rich in organic matter. If your soil is sandy or loamy, consider adding compost or decaying manure to improve its properties. Make sure the soil always has a pH between 5.5 and 6.8 – this is the optimum range for Chaenomeles to grow.


To ensure your Chaenomeles receives sufficient watering, try releasing water onto the soil around the plant at least once a week. Make sure you provide enough water to reach the deepest roots, but not too much so you don’t choke them. When it’s time to water, adjust so that there is at least a two-week gap between each watering. If your plant is exposed to intense heat for extended periods, it should be watered every day or even twice a day.


Once a year, you also need to fertilize your Chaenomeles. Use a slow-release organic fertilizer that contains ammonium nitrate, phosphate, and potassium to provide the necessary nutrients to the plant. Be sure to follow the directions on the fertilizer package for how much to apply and to administer it at the same time as watering. How often you need to apply fertilizer depends on the age of the plant – if your Chaenomeles is older than 3 years, you should fertilize it twice a year; if he’s younger than 3, you should do it at least four times a year. Also, if your plant is in a pot, be sure to fertilize it every month with a liquid fertilizer that contains trace elements.


It’s also essential to keep your Chaenomeles well pruned. Trim dead, broken branches at least once a year to maintain the plant’s shape and encourage it to produce more blooms. When cutting dead branches, be sure to use sharp pruning shears to avoid injuring other parts of the plant. If you notice that the twigs are covered with white mold, remove them immediately with care.


If you live in a colder climate (below -20°C), you will also need to cover your Chaenomeles over the winter to protect it from severe frost. You can use clear plastic sheeting or tarps to cover the plant during the cold winter weather. Remember to remove the cover as soon as spring arrives so it can enjoy the warm weather and all the nutrients the sun can offer! Finally, if you live in a hotter climate (above 30C), you need to make sure your Chaenomeles gets enough shade during the hotter summer months. A simple tarp can offer your plant enough relief from the scorching sun; just make sure the roots don’t dry out completely by leaving them without water while covered! By following these simple guidelines on how to care for them, you will soon have a rich and colorful garden filled with the lovely Chaenomeles!

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