|European Pear branch with fruit (Image Courtesy of USDA, ARS)|
The European pear Pyrus communis, also known as common pear, is a species of pear native to central and eastern Europe and southwest Asia. It is one of the most important fruits of temperate regions, being the species from which most orchard pear cultivars grown in Europe, North America, and Australia have been developed. Two other species of pears, the Nashi pear, Pyrus pyrifolia, and the Chinese white pear bai li, Pyrus × bretschneideri, are more widely grown in eastern Asia.
The cultivated European pear (P. communis subsp. communis) is thought to be descended from two subspecies of wild pears, categorized as P. communis subsp. pyraster (syn. P. pyraster) and P. communis subsp. caucasica (syn. P. caucasica), which are interfertile with domesticated pears. Archeological evidence shows these pears "were collected from the wild long before their introduction into cultivation", according to Zohary and Hopf. Although they point to finds of pears in sites in Neolithic and Bronze Age European sites, "reliable information on pear cultivation first appears in the works of the Greek and the Roman writers." Theophrastus, Cato the Elder, and Pliny the Elder all present information about the cultivation and grafting of pears.
European pear trees are not quite as hardy as apples, but nearly so. They do, however, require some winter chilling to produce fruit. For a list of Lepidoptera whose caterpillars feed on pear tree leaves, see List of Lepidoptera that feed on pear trees.
For best and most consistent quality, European pears are picked when the fruit matures, but before they are ripe. Fruit allowed to ripen on the tree often drops before it can be picked, and in any event will be hard to pick without bruising. Pears store (and ship) well in their mature but unripe state if kept cold, and can be ripened later, a process called bletting. Some varieties, such as Beurre d'Anjou, ripen only with exposure to cold.
Relatively few cultivars of European or Asian pears are widely grown worldwide. Only about 20-25 European and 10-20 Asian cultivars represent virtually all the pears of commerce. Almost all European cultivars were chance seedlings or selections originating in western Europe, mostly France. The Asian cultivars all originated in Japan and China. 'Bartlett' (Williams) is the most common pear cultivar in the world, representing about 75% of US pear production.
In the United States, 95% of reported pear production in 2004 came from four cultivars:
- 50% Williams' Bon Chrétien (England, circa 1770; a summer pear commonly called Bartlett in the US and Canada, and Williams elsewhere)
- 34% Beurré d'Anjou (France, a winter pear commonly called just d'Anjou)
- 10% Beurré Bosc (France, also known as Kaiser Alexander, a winter pear commonly called just Bosc or Kaiser)
- 1% Doyenné du Comice (France, 1849; commonly called Comice pears)
Selected European pear cultivars
- 'Abate Fetel' (syn. Abbé Fetel; a major cultivar in Italy)
- 'Ayers' (USA - an interspecific P. communis × P. pyrifolia hybrid from the University of Tennessee)
- 'Bambinella' (Malta)
- 'Beth' agm
- 'Blake's Pride' (USA)
- 'Blanquilla' (or 'pera de agua' and 'blanquilla de Aranjuez', Spain)
- 'Butirra Precoce Morettini'
- 'Clara Frijs' (major cultivar in Denmark)
- 'Concorde' (England - a seedling of 'Conference' × 'Doyenné du Comice) agm
- 'Conference' (England, 1894; the most popular commercial variety in the UK) agm
- 'Corella' (Australia)
- 'Coscia' (very early maturing cultivar from Italy)
- 'Don Guindo' (Spain - strong yellow, flavoured taste)
- 'Doyenné du Comice' (France)
- 'Dr. Jules Guyot'
- 'Glou Morceau' (Belgium, 1750)
- 'Gorham' (USA)
- 'Harrow Delight' (Canada)
- 'Harrow Sweet' (Canada)
- 'Joséphine de Malines' (Belgium - obtained by Esperen, pomologist and major of Malines in the 19th century; one of the best late season pears) agm
- 'Kieffer' (USA - a hybrid of the Chinese "sand pear", P. pyrifolia and probably 'Bartlett')
- 'Laxton's Superb' (England; no longer used due to high susceptibility to fireblight)
- 'Louise Bonne of Jersey' agm
- 'Luscious' (USA)
- 'Merton Pride' (England, 1941)
- 'Onward' (UK) agm
- 'Orient' (USA - an interspecific P. communis × P. pyrifolia hybrid)
- 'Packham's Triumph' (Australia, 1896)
- 'Pineapple' (USA - an interspecific P. communis × P. pyrifolia hybrid)
- 'Red Bartlett' (USA - There are three major red-skinned mutant clones: 'Max Red Bartlett', 'Sensation Red Bartlett', 'Rosired Bartlett')
- 'Rocha' (Portugal)
- 'Rosemarie' (South Africa)
- 'Seckel' (USA; late 17th century Philadelphia area; still produced, naturally resistant to fireblight)
- 'Starkrimson', also called Red Clapp's, is a red-skinned 1939 Michigan bud mutation of Clapp's Favourite. Its thick, smooth skin is a uniform, bright and intense red, and its creamy flesh is sweet and aromatic.
- 'Summer Beauty'
- 'Taylor's Gold' (New Zealand - a russeted mutant clone of 'Comice')
- 'Williams Bonne Chrétienne' agm
- Kew Royal Botanic Gardens: Pear
- Daniel Zohary and Maria Hopf, Domestication of plants in the Old World, third edition (Oxford: University Press, 2000), p. 176
- Zohary and Hopf, Domestication, p. 177
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. (September 2004.) "Pyrus Crop Germplasm Committee: Report and genetic vulnerability statement, September 2004". (Website.) Germ Resources Information Network (GRIN), page 5. Retrieved on 2007-10-02.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Pyrus communis 'Beth'". Retrieved 30 May 2013.
- "Pero - in Italian".
- "RHS Plant Selector - Pyrus communis 'Comice'". Retrieved 30 May 2013.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Pyrus communis 'Conference'". Retrieved 30 May 2013.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Pyrus communis 'Joséphine de Malines'". Retrieved 30 May 2013.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Pyrus communis 'Louise Bonne of Jersey'". Retrieved 30 May 2013.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Pyrus communis 'Onward'". Retrieved 30 May 2013.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. (September 2004.) "Pyrus Crop Germplasm Committee: Report and genetic vulnerability statement, September 2004". (Website.) Germ Resources Information Network (GRIN), pages 5-7, 10. Retrieved on 2007-10-02.
- Dris, Ramdane, and S. Mohan Jain (editors.) (2004.) "Production Practices and Quality Assessment of Food Crops: Volume 3, Quality Handling and Evaluation". Springer, page 274, ISBN 978-1-4020-1700-1. Retrieved on 2007-10-10
- "RHS Plant Selector - Pyrus communis 'Williams Bonne Chretienne'". Retrieved 30 May 2013.
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