Jelena Gadze is a pomologist at the University of Zagreb (Croatia). She works on different species of fruit trees, including cherries, plums and carob trees. In particular, she is a great specialist of Croatian pomegranate cultivars to which she devoted a PhD thesis in 2013 under the supervision of professors Sezai Ercisli (Turkey) and Zlatko Čmelik.
A.G. Jelena, how did your passion for pomegranates grow?
J.G. My parents originate from West Herzegovina where pomegranate is a traditional fruit. As a child, I used to spend there my summer holidays. And then, in the autumn, our family would send us packages with their fruit harvests (pomegranates, figs, grapes,…), including finished products (pomegranate syrup, some sweet from grapes...). I happened to enjoy what most people dislike: removing the arils from pomegranates… and eating them!
A.G. How did you move from there to writing a whole PhD thesis about them?
J.G. In 2008, I started working at the Faculty of Agriculture in Zagreb. I was told that a PhD thesis had to deal with something new and lead to some applications. As I was having coffee on my terrace with my friend Antonela Kozina, she reminded me of my passion for pomegranates. From that day, I knew that this would become my PhD topic.
I started searching the literature and I got very surprised by the fact that very little was written about Punica granatum. I remember that a search on Science Direct at that time only led me to only 800 paper references, which is very little in our field. Unsurprisingly, the specific literature on Croatian and Herzegovinian pomegranate cultivars turned out to be even more scarce. This triggered my curiosity even further. And I engaged in 5 years of field work.
A.G. In your research, you found different cultivars of Croatian pomegranates. And you have established in Split a living collection of these cultivars.
J.G. Yes, I investigated the pomological and chemical characteristics of pomegranate fruits. Based on these results, I described around 20 cultivars which I observed for a few years. I wrote a full identity card for each of them. And I established the first living collection of Croatian pomegranate cultivars. It is based in Split where the climate is more suitable than in Zagreb. It is my friend Mira Radunić from the Institute for Adriatic Crops (Split) who made this possible.
The most common problem I encountered during my research on cultivars had to do with synonyms and homonyms. After a selection based on the results of pomological and chemical properties, we ran an AFLP analysis. The results confirmed that we had selected the cultivars properly.
In addition, I also did some research on the harmful entomofauna in pomegranate orchards (especially aphids) with Antonela Kozina. We put some yellow pots in pomegranate orchards (here in County Vitina, Herzegovina) to observe aphids species that get attracted by this colour.
Also, since pomegranate have hermaphrodite flowers, I was curious about pollens. I studied in vitro their viability, their germination and the pollen tube growth in germinated pollens which is important to obtain higher yield. Here is a picture of my MA students putting a label on each flower we took pollen from. We then observed how many flowers became fruits.