Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) is another of those old Southern staples that have fallen out of favor over the years. The cheery red blooms would appear in March on large, often ungainly and painfully thorny shrubs. Thankfully, a lot of research and breeding, especially here at our own NC State University, has produced smaller thornless plants with a wide range of colorful flowers. Newest on the scene is the ‘Double Take’ series introduced around 2010. They were developed at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center by Tom Ranney and his intrepid crew of plant scientists. The site is worth a visit. There is a lot of breeding going on in them thar hills!
The Double Take flowers are quite large with many ruffled petals making them resemble small roses or camellias. They appear in February or March before the leaves and continue into May with sporadic rebloom throughout the summer. The series features Red Storm with deep rich scarlet flowers, Orange Storm with bright orange flowers and Pink Storm with sweet ruffled rose-like flowers. The shrubs are rather upright and will reach 4 feet by 4 feet in time. There are other excellent selections. Texas Scarlet is a low spreading shrub with abundant red flowers. Jet Trail has white flowers and reaches only 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Cameo has double peach colored flowers and may reach 5 feet tall and wide. Toyo-Nishiki sports white, pink and red flowers, often on the same branch. This plant requires some room as it can reach 8 feet tall with an even greater spread. After flowering it will also produce an edible fruit.
The wonderful thing about flowering quince aside from their beautiful flowers is that they are dead easy to grow. They will do well in full sun to part shade and are not picky about soil unless it is swampy wet. They harbor few pests or diseases and require minimal pruning. They are also great cut flowers.
Addendum: Flowering quince should not be confused with the Common quince (Cydonia oblongata).It is a small tree that was commonly grown in Colonial times for its large yellow fruit which on its own or with other fruits made wonderful preserves. It pretty much disappeared when commercial pectin was introduced to the market, another casualty of mass production. Old specimens can be seen at the Cloisters in New York City.