Fruit Trees – Pear Trees – Pyrus

Tree & Shrubs – Fruit Trees – The Pear Tree – Pyrus

The pear is any of several tree and shrub species of genus Pyrus /ˈpaɪrəs/, in the family Rosaceae. It is also the name of the pomaceous fruit of these trees. Several species of pear are valued for their edible fruit, while others are cultivated as ornamental trees.

The Pear tree is numerous in London gardens as they are long lived for a tree or shrub of their size and have been popular in the past. With the latest up-turn in grow your own and guerrilla gardening the Pear tree is making a comeback. London tree Surgeons can help with planting and pruning of Pear trees.

The English word “pear” is probably from Common West Germanic pera, probably a loanword of Vulgar Latin pira, the plural of pirum, akin to Greek ἄπιος apios (from Mycenaean ápisos), which is of Semitic origin (Aramaic/Syriac “pirâ”, meaning “fruit”, from the verb “pra”, meaning “to beget, multiply, bear fruit”). The place name Perry can indicate the historical presence of pear trees. The term “pyriform” is sometimes used to describe something which is pear-shaped.

Perry is also the name of pear cider.


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Pear blossoms

The pear is native to coastal and mildly temperate regions of the Old World, from western Europe and north Africa east right across Asia. It is a medium-sized tree, reaching 10–17 metres (33–56 ft) tall, often with a tall, narrow crown; a few species are shrubby.

The leaves are alternately arranged, simple, 2–12 centimetres (0.79–4.72 in) long, glossy green on some species, densely silvery-hairy in some others; leaf shape varies from broad oval to narrow lanceolate. Most pears are deciduous, but one or two species in southeast Asia are evergreen. Most are cold-hardy, withstanding temperatures between −25 °C (−13 °F) and −40 °C (−40 °F) in winter, except for the evergreen species, which only tolerate temperatures down to about −15 °C (5 °F).

The flowers are white, rarely tinted yellow or pink, 2–4 centimetres (0.79–1.57 in) diameter, and have five petals. Like that of the related apple, the pear fruit is a pome, in most wild species 1–4 centimetres (0.39–1.57 in) diameter, but in some cultivated forms up to 18 centimetres (7.1 in) long and 8 centimetres (3.1 in) broad; the shape varies in most species from oblate or globose, to the classic pyriform ‘pear-shape’ of the European pear with an elongated basal portion and a bulbous end.

The fruit is composed of the receptacle or upper end of the flower-stalk (the so-called calyx tube) greatly dilated. Enclosed within its cellular flesh is the true fruit: five cartilaginous carpels, known colloquially as the “core”. From the upper rim of the receptacle are given off the five sepals, the five petals, and the very numerous stamens.

Pears and apples cannot always be distinguished by the form of the fruit; some pears look very much like some apples, e.g. the nashi pear. One major difference is that the flesh of pear fruit contains stone cells (also called “grit”).


The cultivation of the pear in cool temperate climates extends to the remotest antiquity, and there is evidence of its use as a food since prehistoric times. Many traces of it have been found in the Swiss lake-dwellings. The word “pear”, or its equivalent, occurs in all the Celtic languages, while in Slavic and other dialects, differing appellations, still referring to the same thing, are found—a diversity and multiplicity of nomenclature which led Alphonse de Candolle to infer a very ancient cultivation of the tree from the shores of the Caspian to those of the Atlantic.

The pear was also cultivated by the Romans, who ate the fruits raw or cooked, just like apples. Pliny’s Natural History recommended stewing them with honey and noted three dozen varieties. The Roman cookbook attributed to Apicius, De re coquinaria, has a recipe for a spiced, stewed-pear patina, or soufflé.

A certain race of pears, with white down on the under surface of their leaves, is supposed to have originated from P. nivalis, and their fruit is chiefly used in France in the manufacture of perry. Other small-fruited pears, distinguished by their early ripening and apple-like fruit, may be referred to as P. cordata, a species found wild in western France and southwestern England. Pears have been cultivated in China for approximately 3000 years.

The genus is thought to have originated in present-day western China in the foothills of the Tian Shan, a mountain range of Central Asia, and to have spread to the north and south along mountain chains, evolving into a diverse group of over 20 widely recognized primary species. The enormous number of varieties of the cultivated European pear (Pyrus communis subsp. communis), are without doubt derived from one or two wild subspecies (P. communis subsp. pyraster and P. communis subsp. caucasica), widely distributed throughout Europe, and sometimes forming part of the natural vegetation of the forests. Court accounts of Henry III of England record pears shipped from La Rochelle-Normande and presented to the King by the Sheriffs of the City of London. The French names of pears grown in English medieval gardens suggest that their reputation, at the least, was French; a favored variety in the accounts was named for Saint Rule or Regul’, Bishop of Senlis.

Asian species with medium to large edible fruit include P. pyrifolia, P. ussuriensis, P. × bretschneideri, P. × sinkiangensis, and P. pashia. Other small-fruited species are frequently used as rootstocks for the cultivated forms.

Major recognized taxa

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Callery Pears in flower

  • Pyrus amygdaliformis—Almond-leaved pear
  • Pyrus armeniacifolia—Apricot-leaved pear
  • Pyrus boissieriana
  • Pyrus bourgaeana—Iberian pear
  • Pyrus × bretschneideri—Chinese white pear; also classified as a subspecies of Pyrus pyrifolia
  • Pyrus calleryana—Callery pear
  • Pyrus communis – European pear
    • Pyrus communis subsp. communis—European pear (cultivars include Beurre d’Anjou, Bartlett and Beurre Bosc)
    • Pyrus communis subsp. caucasica (syn. P. caucasica)
    • Pyrus communis subsp. pyraster — Wild European Pear (syn. (Pyrus pyraster))
  • Pyrus cordata—Plymouth pear
  • Pyrus cossonii—Algerian pear
  • Pyrus dimorphophylla
  • Pyrus elaeagrifolia—Oleaster-leaved pear
  • Pyrus fauriei
  • Pyrus gharbiana
  • Pyrus glabra
  • Pyrus hondoensis
  • Pyrus koehnei—Evergreen pear of southern China and Taiwan
  • Pyrus korshinskyi
  • Pyrus mamorensis
  • Pyrus nivalis—Snow pear
  • Pyrus pashia—Afghan pear
  • Pyrus ×phaeocarpa
  • Pyrus pseudopashia
  • Pyrus pyrifolia—Nashi pear, Sha Li; tree species native to China, Japan, and Korea, also known as the Asian pear
  • Pyrus regelii
  • Pyrus salicifolia—Willow-leaved pear
  • Pyrus × serrulata
  • Pyrus × sinkiangensis—thought to be an interspecific hybrid between P. ×bretschneideri and Pyrus communis
  • Pyrus syriaca—Syrian pear
  • Pyrus ussuriensis—Siberian pear (also known as the Ussurian pear, Harbin pear, and Manchurian pear)
  • Pyrus xerophila


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Pear tree with fruit.

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Vicar of Winkfield pear, a heritage variety, no longer commonly found.

According to Pear Bureau Northwest, about 3000 known varieties of pears are grown worldwide. The pear is normally propagated by grafting a selected variety onto a rootstock, which may be of a pear variety or quince. Quince rootstocks produce smaller trees, which is often desirable in commercial orchards or domestic gardens. For new varieties the flowers can be cross-bred to preserve or combine desirable traits. The fruit of the pear is produced on spurs, which appear on shoots more than one year old.

Three species account for the vast majority of edible fruit production, the European pear Pyrus communis subsp. communis cultivated mainly in Europe and North America, the Chinese white pear (bai li) Pyrus ×bretschneideri, and the Nashi pear Pyrus pyrifolia (also known as Asian pear or apple pear), both grown mainly in eastern Asia. There are thousands of cultivars of these three species. A species grown in western China, P. sinkiangensis, and P. pashia, grown in southern China and south Asia, are also produced to a lesser degree.

Other species are used as rootstocks for European and Asian pears and as ornamental trees. The Manchurian or Ussurian Pear, Pyrus ussuriensis (which produces unpalatable fruit) has been crossed with Pyrus communis to breed hardier pear cultivars. The Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’) in particular has become widespread in North America, and is used only as an ornamental tree, as well as a blight-resistant rootstock for Pyrus communis fruit orchards. The Willow-leaved pear (Pyrus salicifolia) is grown for its attractive, slender, densely silvery-hairy leaves.

The following cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit:-

  • ‘Beth’
  • ‘Concorde’
  • ‘Conference’
  • ‘Joséphine de Malines’
  • ‘Louise Bonne of Jersey’
  • ‘Onward’
  • ‘Williams’ Bon Chrétien’[15]


Summer and autumn cultivars of Pyrus communis, being climacteric fruits, are gathered before they are fully ripe, while they are still green, but snap off when lifted. In the case of the ‘Passe Crassane’, long the favored winter pear in France, the crop is traditionally gathered at three different times: the first a fortnight or more before it is ripe, the second a week or ten days after that, and the third when fully ripe. The first gathering will come into eating last, and thus the season of the fruit may be considerably prolonged.

Nashi pears are allowed to ripen on the tree.

Wild Pear Tree

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wild pear tree spring

Wild Pear—spring.

The Wild Pear (Pyrus communis).

The Wild Pear is only to be found growing in the southern half of Britain, its northward range not extending beyond Yorkshire, and even in the south its claim to be regarded as a true native has been contested. Mr. Hewett C. Watson regards it as more probably a denizen, that is, a species originally introduced by man, which has maintained its hold upon the new land. Upon this assumption it is probable that the introduced specimens were already somewhat cultivated, but when they (or their descendants) became wild they reverted to the original condition of the species.

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wild pear tree detail

Wild Pear. A, flower.

The Wild Pear, or Choke-pear, is a small tree, from twenty to sixty feet in height, of somewhat pyramidal form. The twigs, which are usually of a drooping tendency, are also much given to ending in spines—a character scarcely apparent in the cultivated tree. The leaves, too, of the wild tree are more distinctly toothed than those of the Garden Pear. They are oval in shape, with blunt-toothed edges, and downy on the lower surface. Along the new shoots the leaves are arranged alternately on opposite sides, but on shoots a year old they are produced in clusters. The flowers, which measure more than an inch across, are pure white in colour, and are clustered in cymes of five to nine. They appear in April and May, and are of the Wild Rose type.

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