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History Of The Pear
There is convincing archaeological evidence from the excavation of the ancient lake dwellers in Switzerland that the European pear, Pyrus communis L., was known to that civilization. It is believed that the pear was known to prehistoric people, but there is no agreement as to whether the apple or the pear came first. The ancient pear tree of Europe was fundamentally different from the Asian pear tree, Prunus pyrifolia.
English records show that in 1629 “stones of pears were sent by the Massachusetts Company to New England” colonists to plant and grow into trees in Plymouth, MA.
On March 30, 1763, the famous American, George Mason, wrote in his extensive orchard journal: “grafted 10 black pears of Worchester from Collo… these are a large (rough) fruit for baking” and old French pear variety.
Fort Frederica on Saint Simons Island, Georgia, was established by the English colonists in 1733, at the same time as the city of Savannah was settled. To enable the settlers with self-sustaining food reserves, a plan was developed by General Oglethorpe to introduce trees and plants for cultivation in both temperate and subtropical climates that would prove valuable for future farms and fruit and nut orchards in Georgia. These goals were reported by William Bartram in his book, Travels, published in 1773, 40 years later. John Bartram, father and traveling companion of William Bartram, made their research trip to East Florida, Carolina and Georgia in part to examine resources and plant stocks that the Spanish handed over to the English as colonial acquisitions.
Prince nursery was established as the first American nursery for the collection, cultivation and sale of plants and trees in Flushing, New York in 1737, Prince nursery advertised “42 pear trees for sale in 1771.”
John Bartram planted the seed of a pear tree in 1793 and this old tree grew and bore fruit until the year 1933.
The great American botanical hybridizer and author of his epic and monumental 12-volume account of his observations of plant development over many years by Luther Burbank stated that there were basically two genetic lines of pears that he and others had used to improve the commercial quality of pear trees and their fruits. The European pear, Pyrus communis L., the Asian pear, Pyrus pyrifolia, also called the Korean pear tree, the Japanese pear tree, the Chinese pear tree and the Taiwanese pear tree. These were crossed to achieve a recombination of genes to screen out the complex character mixtures that would hopefully produce superior fruit.
Bartram wrote in his ‘Fruit Improvement’ about a pear hybrid that appeared on a farm near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the result of a European pear and the Chinese sand pear that had been planted on the farm as ornamental garden trees. This hybrid took place on Mr. Peter Kieffer’s farm and thus bore his name for the first hybridized oriental pear tree. The “Kieffer” pear has a pleasant aroma; it is a beautiful and graceful tree with large white flowers, but this pear is best when cooked into preserves or pies because of its firmness. The cold hardiness and disease resistance make this pear a valuable cultivar that remains a best selling pear tree even today.
Other Oriental pear trees that entered the popular nursery mail order catalogs were Le Conte, Garber and Smith pear trees. These pear trees became standard cultivars for Gulf State garden plantings where European pear trees do not grow well.
Other strains of pears developed in California were described as enormous in size, with delicate color, fragrance and excellent quality. One of these hybrid pears measured nine inches tall and weighed five pounds—a single fruit.
Burbank pointed out that the commercial pear trade frowns on large pears because of problems with boxing, sorting and shipping, and that the average pear fruit buyer does not often prefer oversized pears. The northwestern United States produces the most commercial pears, generally because of the fruit’s exceptional dessert quality. The oldest pear market sensation is Bartlett (Williams), which grows in a group called “Winter pears”, including other varieties. Comice, D’Anjou, Bosc, Red D’Anjou and Concorde bulbs. These cultivars have a very limited range of successful growth due to their fragile European pear parent, Pyrus communis, and are not recommended for cultivation in most regions of the United States.
The pear tree is unique as a fruit that does not shrivel, and is easily recognizable from its normal description, which refers to the shape of the fruit, “pear-shaped”, a specific shape that everyone understands. Buyers of pear fruit are very partial to buying a pear in the shape they are used to, and will often reject the Asian pear, ‘Pyrus pyrifolia, a round or apple-shaped fruit. The texture of pears is unique among fruits, along with aroma, flavor and the idea that pears (European clones) must be picked off the tree to ripen later; whereas the Asian pears are better left on the trees to ripen for full flavor development.
The pear’s skin grows in a wide range of colours, green, yellow, orange, red and spotted, and this forms a fantastic protective shield against the eyes of birds and other animals. Pear trees require longer periods of maturity to begin fruiting than most other fruit trees, but the tree will bear earlier if grafted onto a dwarf quince rootstock; however, most tree merchants offer semi-dwarf trees for sale, and of course larger trees begin to bear fruit earlier than small trees. Asian pear trees produce fruit more quickly than trees of European pear origin. One factor that has delayed the spread of pear trees since antiquity is the fact that the seeds show poor germination success unless moist, and most travelers on the ancient “Silk Road” trade routes dried the seeds for sale or barter.
Fruit buyers in America have shown a dramatic and increased interest in purchasing fresh pears at the grocery store over the past 25 years. USDA resources indicate that per capita consumption of table-quality fresh pears has increased more than most fruits, while purchases of fresh peaches have decreased. Fresh pears can be stored at freezing for as long as 5 months for consumer purchase later. For backyard gardeners, pear trees can grow 20-30 feet on semi-dwarf rootstock and are well adapted to growing in most soils, even poorly drained soils, preferably in a pH range of 6 to 7. Pear trees will grow and tolerate temperatures of approx. minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Burbank performed many strange crosses with pear trees. He crossed pears with apples and quince; however, these hybrid trees did not grow to produce acceptable fruit.
Pears contain antioxidants and no fat, with health benefits from vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin C, niacin and the minerals Calcium, Phosphorus, Iron and Potassium.
Many varieties of pears are recommended for planting. Ayers pear tree, Baldwin pear tree, Columbus red pear tree, Floridahome pear tree, Hood pear tree, Kieffer pear tree, Leconte pear tree, Moonglow pear tree, Orient pear tree, Pineapple pear tree, Sand pear tree and the Warren pear tree. Four varieties of Asian pears are also planted: the Korean giant pear tree, the Hosui pear tree, the Shinseiki pear tree, the 20th century pear tree.
There are also four varieties of flowering, non-fruiting pears. Bradford flowering pear tree, Cleveland flowering pear tree, Aristocrat flowering pear tree and Autumn Blaze flowering pears.
Copyright 2006 Patrick Malcolm
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