Common Name: European Pear
Scientific Name: Pyrus communis
Family: Rosaceae (the Rose family)
The European Pear needs almost no description. It is one of the most well known, and loved, tree fruits in the world. While most people are familiar with the two or three (maybe four) varieties the local grocer stocks, there are over 3,000 other varieties in the world which few of us have ever tasted. And few have ever tasted Perry, the pear equivalent of apple cider. Pear trees also attract and feed beneficial insects and have wood that can be used for a variety of purposes. A Forest Garden would be missing something without a few pear trees.
Pears are native to western Europe, across into Asia, and into northern Africa. They were first cultivated in Asia and then in Europe thousands of years ago. Today, they are one of the most important tree fruits in temperate climates.
- Pears were harvested from the wild long before cultivation.
- There are over 3,000 known varieties of Pear currently grown around the world!
- In a 2004 report, 95% of United States Pear production came from just four varieties: 50% were Bartlett (Williams’ Bon Chrétien), 34% were d’Anjou (Beurré d’Anjou), 10% were Bosc (Beurré Bosc), and 1% were Comice (Doyenné du Comice).
- While most European Pears are harvested underripe, the variety known as ‘Seckel’ (and all Asian Pears) are harvested when fully ripe.
A Note on Perry:
- Perry is an alcoholic “Pear Cider” made from pears, like hard cider is made from apples
- Perry Pears are normally grown on Pear rootstock, and so these trees are quite large. Perry Pears can be grown on Quince rootstock instead, and these trees will be smaller.
- Perry Pears are not eaten raw, because they are astringent (make your mouth dry like a very “dry” red wine).
- Many sources claim that Perry Pears are harvested from the ground when they drop from the tree, similar to Cider Apples; however, professional Perry (and Cider) makers will say that the best Perry (and Cider) is made from fruit that is treated well, i.e. not allowed to drop.
USING THIS PLANT
- Fresh eating – The most well-known varieties are the sweet or dessert pears, and these can be some of the finest fruits in the world!
- Cooking – While dessert pears can be cooked, there are a large number of cooking pears that are not sweet for fresh eating, but have a great flavor only appreciated after cooking, sometimes for a few hours.
- Preserved – Preserves, Jams, Jellies, etc. Pears also dehydrate/dry very well, and the dehydrated fruit can be used in many recipes for desserts or just eaten as is.
- General insect (especially bees) nectar and pollen plant
- Wildlife food
- Wildlife shelter
- Primary or adjunt flavor component in beer, wine, cider, perry, mead, liquor, etc. The Perry Pears have been specifically developed for producing Perry!
- Can be Coppiced. This typically stops fruit production for a few years.
- Wood – Poles, posts, stakes, tools, crafts, instruments, furniture, etc.
- Wood – Firewood, charcoal
- Wood – Smoking/Barbeque: pear wood gives a soft “fruity” smoke to meats, similar to apple wood
Yield: Standard root stock – 2-4 bushels (70-140 liters) or 77-300 lbs (35-136 kg); dwarf root stock – 1 bushel (35 liters) or 56 lbs (25 kg)
Harvesting: Late Summer to Autumn (August-October), but can vary based on variety and location. Pick when fruits slightly change color. Pears are one of the few fruits that are harvested unripe. Pears on the tree will ripen from the inside out, so if they are left on the tree, the interior would be overripe (brown mush) when the outside is ripe. But when harvested underripe, the Pears will ripen equally from the inside and outside at the same time. There is a skill (and learning curve) to knowing when is the best time to harvest Pears.
Storage: Typically, the fruit is stored in a cool, dry place and handled carefully to prevent bruising. Some sources recommend storing early-ripening Pears under refrigeration for a few weeks before allowing the fruit to ripen at cool, room temperatures. Late-ripening Pears can be ripened immediately after harvest. Pears can be stored for longer periods of time at cooler temperatures and then brought out to ripen. Once brought to room temperatures, check the fruit frequently for ripening. Use when ripe.
DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
AHS Heat Zone: 9-3
Chill Requirement: 600-1,500 units/hours depending on the variety.
Plant Type: Small Herbaceous Plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Underground Layer, Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available for thi
Pollination: European Pears traditionally require cross-pollination, although a few varieties are self-fruitful. This requires two different varieties of European Pear. Some Asian Pears (Pyrus pyrifolia, P. ussuriensis, and P. x bretschneideris) will cross-pollinate European Pears. Because there is such a wide variety of pears and cross-pollination variations, it is best to get cross-pollination information from the nursery or catalog company you are purchasing your pears. Pollinated by insects.
Flowering: Late Spring to early Summer (May-June); susceptible to late frosts
Years to Begin Bearing: 3-10+ years depending on the variety and rootstock
Years of Useful Life: 50-75 years. Dwarfing rootstocks live shorter lives
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
- Minidwarf: 4-6 feet (1.2-1.8 meters) tall and wide
- Dwarf: 8-15 feet (2.4-4.5 meters) tall and 10-15 feet (3-4.5 meters) wide
- Semidwarf: 15-20 feet (4.5-6 meters) tall and wide
- Standard: 25-40 feet (7.6-12 meters) tall and 25 feet (7.6 meters) wide
- Standard Perry Pear Tree: 25-70 feet (7.6-21 meters) tall and 15-55 feet (4.5-16.7 meters) wide
Growth Rate: Medium
GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Shade: Tolerates very little shade… shade is best avoided
Moisture: Medium-moisture soils are preferred.
pH: most varieties prefer fairly neutral soil (6.0-7.5)
Special Considerations for Growing:
- Pears to not tolerate juglone (natural growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut and its relatives). Make sure you have other varieties of trees and shrubs as a buffer between your walnuts and pears.
- Pears are susceptible to Fire Blight, Pear Scab, and Canker, so try to choose varieties that are resistant to these diseases.
- Make sure to consider flowering times when planning which varieties you choose. You need to make sure that you have compatible varieties (i.e. ones that will pollinate each other) flowering at the same time.
Named varieties are usually grafted because pear cultivars do not grow “true to type”, meaning that seeds will grow into trees that produce fruit that is likely to be nothing like the parent stock. If growing from seed, they will need 8-16 weeks cold stratification for germination. Less improved species and non-cultivars are often grown from seed.
Typically, European Pears are pruned once a year to once every 2-3 years in late Winter or early Spring. Learn to prune your fruit trees to maximize health and production.
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