European Pear

(Pyrus communis)

European Pear
‘Ubileen’ fruit

Cultivars tested

‘Ubileen’, ‘Parker’, ‘Nova’, ‘Summercrisp’

Description and site preference

Type and size – mid-sized tree (small tree on dwarfing rootstock)
Hardiness zone – 3-9 (depending on variety)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – wide range, pH 6.0-7.5
Drainage – moderate to well-drained

Economic factors

Years to harvest – 4-6
Maintenance – medium, some pruning/limb spreading
Life of planting – about 50 years
Machine harvest potential – none
Suitable markets – fresh and processed

Bud stage
‘Ubileen’ in bud

Notable features

Nutritional highlights – source of vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus and potassium
Adaptability – variable, depends on variety and fire blight resistance
Pest issues – codling moth, fire blight (varies by variety)
Invasive potential – none
Environmental benefits – dynamic accumulator of minerals

Integration characteristics

Shared management – medium, similar to other tree fruits
Shared equipment – medium, avoid spreading fire blight
Shared processing – medium, similar to apples
Co-marketing – high for processed items, variable for fresh fruit

Integration potential – conditional

Selection for use in an integrated system at a particular site will depend on adaptability, season of harvest and type of sales outlet.

Ubileen with fruit
‘Ubileen’ with fruit

History and background

The cultivated European pear is thought to be descended from two subspecies of wild pear: P. pyraster and P. caucasica. Archeological evidence shows that pears were collected from the wild long before they became a cultivated fruit. There is some evidence that pears have been consumed since the Neolithic and Bronze ages. Greek and Roman writers shared reliable information on pear grafting and cultivation.

The European pear (P. communis), is native to central and eastern Europe and southwest Asia. Far from uncommon, it is one of the most important fruits of temperate regions. It has been included in the Carandale test plot as a pollinator species for the Asian pear, and to evaluate variability within the species.

Observations at Carandale Farm

Four cultivars are being observed. ‘Ubileen’ is a very early flowering and fruiting cultivar planted in 2003 to cross pollinate with the Asian pear. Plants were ordered from Northwoods Nursery (see One Green World).

  • Trees are vigorous and well adapted.
  • Trees started to fruit in the fourth year, early for a European cultivar.
  • Except for the freeze-out in 2012, they have produced consistently.
  • Yield has never been very high. Fruit is large and attractive with red blush.
  • Fruit ripens very early (end of July), but is extremely prone to core rot, making harvest timing critical.
  • The fruit is flavorful, fine textured, buttery and contains very few grit cells.
  • The trees appear to be fire blight resistant.

From previous experience, ‘Parker’ was known to have extremely different characteristics, so Carandale planted it for comparison. In 2008 five ‘Parker’ pear trees were ordered from St. Lawrence Nurseries.

  • Nursery stock was extremely poor, small and with few roots.
  • Only two survived transplanting and it has taken four years for the trees to show substantial growth. It will be several years before they start fruiting.
  • ‘Parker’ usually adapts well, as seen from prior experience at Carandale.

The following observations are from a prior planting made in 1970. Trees were observed for 37 years and finally removed in 2007 because of fire blight.

  • Of the four pear varieties planted in 1970 (including ‘Bartlett’), ‘Parker’ was by far the best overall variety.
  • The fruit ripened mid- to late-September (nearly three months after ‘Ubileen’).
  • Fruit was medium with a red blush and firm but not hard. It could be tree-ripened with no core rot (a big advantage for commercial growers).
  • Flesh was sweet, fine-textured and contained virtually no grit cells.
  • Fruit kept well in cold storage and was a customer favorite.
  • Though it was not totally fire blight resistant, it showed the most resistance of the four varieties, outliving ‘Bartlett’ by 10 years. (Bartlett had the second best resistance to fire blight.)

Along with ‘Parker’, one each of  ‘Nova’ and ‘Summercrisp’ were ordered from St. Lawrence Nurseries in 2008.

  • Nursery stock was small, but had good root systems. Both plants survived and are now adapting well
  • Nova is a seedling variety of unknown parentage sold exclusively by St. Lawrence Nurseries.
  • It is said to be hardy with large, round, melting and juicy fruit that hangs well and can be used green or ripe.
  • The tree has typical P. communis characteristics. Fire blight resistance in not mentioned.
  • Summercrisp is an introduction from the University of Minnesota. Parentage is unknown, but the tree is probably a European and Asian pear cross. Based observations of the tree and the description of the fruit, it is probably a cross between Pyrus ussuriensis and P. communis.
  • It is reported to have resistance to fire blight and to bear fruit that is best used slightly unripe before it develops grit cells, a browning of flesh around the seeds, and a strong (unappealing) aroma. These are all characteristics of P. ussuriensis.

Discussion

European pear is a diverse species with a wide range of characteristics. Cultivars selected for observation in the test plot are intended to represent this. ‘Ubileen’ is an early and a high quality cultivar for fresh market sales, but the harvest window is short. Fruit can go from the poor quality and under-ripe to core rot and over-ripe within a few days, requiring good timing and multiple harvest that could be a management nightmare for commercial growers.

Except for fruit quality, ‘Parker’ pear is the polar opposite. The fruit ripens in September-October and can be tree-ripened with no core rot. It has good quality and a long shelf life, giving it a long harvest window — the commercial growers management dream. Some of this convenience and risk reduction will (of course) be offset by lower market prices because of competition with other fresh fruit that time of year.

These two varieties represent the extremes in variability of this diverse fruit species. There are hundreds of cultivars representing intermediate characteristics. The disadvantage of having so many selections for propagators to chose from is the promotion of the older, more recognized selections over lesser known but higher quality selections, such as ‘Parker’. Unfortunately, for all its good qualities, there are very few nurseries that propagate ‘Parker’. Carandale hopes this will change in the future.

References

Wikipedia entry on European Pear
Summercrisp Pear,” University of Minnesota Extension, 2013
USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Pears

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