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History Of The Pear
There is compelling archaeological evidence from excavations of 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 man, but there is no agreement as to whether the apple or the pear came first. The ancient European pear was fundamentally different from the Asian pear Prunus pyrifolia.
English records show that in 1629, the “Massachusetts Company sent to New England” “pear pits” for the colonists to plant and grow trees in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
On March 30, 1763, the famous American George Mason made an entry in his extensive garden journal: “grafted 10 black Worcester pears from Col… these are large (coarse) baking fruits” and an old French pear variety.
Fort Frederick on St. Simons Island, Georgia, was founded by English colonists in 1733, at the same time the town of Savannah was settled. In order to enable the settlers to provide their own food supplies, General Oglethorpe developed a plan to grow trees and plants in 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”, which was published in 1773, 40 years later. John Bartram, father and companion of William Bartram, made his exploratory trip to East Florida, the Carolinas, and Georgia, in part to investigate the resources and plant stocks left by the Spanish to the English as colonial acquisitions.
Prince Nursery was founded as the first American nursery to collect, grow and sell plants and trees in Flushing, New York in 1737. Prince Nursery advertised “42 pear trees for sale in 1771”.
John Bartram planted a pear seed in 1793, and this ancient tree continued to grow and bear fruit until 1933.
The great American botanical hybridizer and writer of his epic and monumental 12-volume account of his observations of plant development over many years, Luther Burbank, stated that there were basically two genetic lines of pears that he and others used to improve the commercial quality of pears. pear trees and their fruiting. European pear, Pyrus communis L., Asian pear, Pyrus pyrifolia, also called Korean pear, Japanese pear, Chinese pear and Taiwan pear. They have been crossed to get gene recombination to weed out the complex character mixes that we hope will produce the best fruit.
Bartram wrote in his “Fruit Improvement” about the Chance Pear hybrid, which appeared on a farm near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a result of European Pear and Chinese Sand Pear, which were planted on the farm as ornamental garden trees. This hybrid was obtained on the farm of Mr. Peter Keefer, thus earning his name for the first hybridized oriental pear tree. “Kieffer” pear has a pleasant aroma; it is a beautiful and graceful tree with huge white flowers, but this pear is best suited for making preserves or pies because of its firmness. Hardiness and disease resistance make this pear a valuable variety that remains the best-selling pear tree today.
Other Oriental pears that made it into popular nursery mail order catalogs were Le Conte, Garber and Smith pear trees. These pear trees have become standard varieties for orchards in the Gulf state, where European pears do not grow well.
Other varieties of pears bred in California have been described as enormous in size, with delicate colors, flavor and excellent quality. One of these hybrid pears was nine inches tall and weighed five pounds – one fruit.
Burbank noted that the commercial trade of pears does not treat large pears because of packaging, sorting and shipping problems, and the average pear buyer often does not primarily buy large pears. The northwestern United States produces the most commercial pears, usually because of the fruit’s exceptional dessert quality. The oldest pear on the market is Bartlett (Williams), which grows in a group called “winter pears” including other varieties. Comice, D’Anjou, Bosc, Red D’Anjou and Concorde pears. These cultivars have a very limited area of successful growth due to their delicate origin from the European pear, Pyrus communis, and are not recommended for cultivation in most regions of the United States.
The pear tree is unique in that the fruit does not shrivel and is easily recognized by the common description of the fruit being “pear-like”, a certain shape that everyone understands. Pear buyers are very biased towards buying pears in the shape they are used to and often reject the Asian pear, Pyrus pyrifolia, which is round or apple-shaped. The texture of pears is unique among fruits, along with the aroma, taste, and the idea that pears (European clones) must be picked from the tree to ripen later; while Asian pears are best left on the trees to ripen for full flavor development.
The skin of pears has a wide range of colors, green, yellow, orange, red and mottled, and it makes an excellent protective shield against the eyes of birds and other animals. Pear trees require a longer maturation period to begin fruiting than most other fruit trees, but the tree will bear fruit sooner if grafted onto a dwarf quince rootstock; however, most tree dealers offer semi-dwarf trees for sale, and of course the larger trees start fruiting earlier than the smaller ones. Asian pear trees bear fruit earlier than European pear trees. One factor that has delayed the spread of pear trees since ancient times is that the seeds do not germinate well unless they are moist, and most travelers on the ancient Silk Road trade routes dried the seeds for sale or exchange.
Fruit shoppers in America have shown a sharp and increased interest in purchasing fresh pears at the grocery store over the past 25 years. USDA resources state that per capita consumption of fresh table-quality pears has increased more than most fruits, while purchases of fresh peaches have decreased. Fresh pears can be stored at a temperature close to zero for 5 months, so that they can be bought by consumers later. For backyard gardeners, pear trees can grow 20-30 feet tall on semi-dwarf rootstocks and are well suited to growing in most soils, even poorly drained soils, preferably in the pH range of 6 to 7. Pear trees will grow and tolerate temperatures as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Burbank has done many amazing crosses with pear trees. Crossed pears with apples and quinces; however, these hybrid trees did not grow to produce acceptable fruit.
Pear fruit contains antioxidants and does not contain fat, but healthy vitamins A, B1, B2, C, niacin and minerals calcium, phosphorus, iron and potassium.
Many pear varieties are recommended for planting. Ayers Pear, Baldwin Pear, Columbus Red Pear, Floridahome Pear, Hood Pear, Kiefer Pear, Leconte Pear, Moonglow Pear, Orient Pear, Pineapple Pear, Sand Pear, and Warren Pear. Four varieties of Asian pears are also planted: Korean giant pear, Hosui pear, Shinseiki pear, twentieth century pear.
There are also four varieties of flowering, non-fruiting pears. Bradford Blooming Pear, Cleveland Blooming Pear, Aristocrat Blooming Pear and Autumn Blaze Blooming Pear.
Copyright 2006 Patrick Malcolm
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