Medlar fruit before leaf fall
Description and site preference
Type and size – small, shrub-like tree, 15-20 feet
Hardiness zone – 5-9
Exposure – full sun
Soil – any fertile, moist soil
Drainage – well-drained
Years to harvest – 2-3
Maintenance – minimal after training
Life of planting – 50+ years
Machine harvest potential – limited
Suitable markets – very limited
Medlar after a hard frost
Nutritional highlights – little information available
Adaptability – marginal winter hardiness, adapts to most fertile soils
Pest issues – some leaf blight and leaf hoppers
Invasive potential – none
Environmental benefits – late blooming to sustain pollinator populations
Shared management – intermediate, similar to other tree fruits after training
Shared equipment – intermediate, similar to other tree fruits
Shared processing – low, very specialized, needs to be bletted (more info. below)
Co-marketing – low, very specialized
Integration potential – low
Medlar is an attractive plant that could have a niche market as an antique fruit species, but it does not demonstrate the economic and/or ecological characteristics for inclusion in an integrated cropping system.
History and background
Medlar’s origin and native habitat is somewhat uncertain, but it likely originated in southeastern Europe and southwestern Asia with an ancient history of cultivation. Wild plants exist in a much wider area. Medlar was grown by ancient Greeks and Romans and was a very popular fruit in Western Europe during the Victorian era. It is not well-suited for commercial markets and fell out of favor after the industrial revolution.
Observations at Carandale Farm
Medlar established well at Carandale Farm but has since declined. Medlar is susceptible to some leaf diseases and appears to be a preferred host for leafhoppers, but not attractive to the Japanese beetle. It is self-fertile and self-pollinating. Medlar flowers late, making it virtually immune to frost damage. The leaves, flowers and fruit have an attractive tropical appearance.
The fruit resembles a large, brown, fuzzy rose hip. The flesh is hard and unpalatable at the physiological ripening stage and must go through an over-ripening process called bletting to become soft and edible. Bletting can occur on the trees after frost, but is generally done by harvesting the fruit at the ripening stage and storing it stalk end up in a cool place until it reaches a state of “incipient decay.” At this stage, the fruit is soft and sweet with the flavor and texture of a spicy baked apple. After removing the skin and seeds, fruit can be eaten fresh or made into jams and jellies.
Medlar was an important medicinal plant in the Middle Ages. Bletted pulp or syrup was a popular remedy for intestinal disorders. It has become a forgotten fruit, and there is little modern information about its nutritional and medicinal value.
Medlar is considered a species with low genetic variability and subject to high risk of decline. Carandale Farm had two named cultivars in their test plot purchased from Northwoods Nursery (see One Green World ) in 2003 – ‘Breda Giant’ and ‘Marion’. They were very similar. ‘Marion’, which had smaller fruit and tree size, was removed after a few years to make room for a persimmon trial. ‘Breda Giant’ is still being observed.
Medlar probably doesn’t have much of a future as a commercial crop, but it appears to be quite adaptable. It is an attractive and unusual plant. If it were found to have unique nutritional or medicinal benefits, Medlar could see a revival.