Looks can be deceiving with the flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa). Most of the year this shrub is a mass of tangled, thorny branches with mundane foliage. But, in spring the beast becomes a beauty with showy single or double blossoms. In October we are rewarded with apple-like fruit that makes a great marmalade or jelly.
More sophisticated gardeners know this plant as Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa), but old timers still call it Japonica. It's a round-topped, deciduous shrub growing 6 feet tall and 10 feet across. These old plants become a tangle of branches, but they persist for years without benefit of pruning. Flowering quince produces stout thorns and, at one time, it was common to see hedges made from it.
In late winter, usually well before it's safe to do so, it begins opening a few blossoms to test the weather. Full bloom is in early March, about the time forsythia flowers. These abandoned shrubs almost always have single, pinkish-orange blossoms that are about the size of a quarter. Newer forms are often double flowered with blooms in shades of pink, red or white.
Flowering quince, provided the flowers are not killed by a late freeze, will produce a hard, ugly, pear-like fruit. These tart fruit can be used in jelly making, but are usually produced erratically and in small numbers so few jelly makers ever get good at perfecting their art.
Quince foliage emerges maroon-green in the spring just as the flowers are fading. A pair of prominent leaf-like stipules flare out from the base of the petiole. Quince foliage, though is often short lived. Leaf diseases cause defoliation, and oftentimes the shrubs retain only a few leaves at the ends of branches by August. But, even though early defoliation happens most years, the shrub is incredibly tough and persists without any particular problem.