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Williams pear

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'Williams' pear
The Williams pear. An 1822 print from the Horticultural Society of London
SpeciesPyrus communis
OriginAldermaston, UK between 1765 and 1770

The Williams' bon chrétien pear, commonly called the Williams pear, or the Bartlett pear in the United States and Canada, is a cultivar (cultivated variety) of the species Pyrus communis, commonly known as the European pear. The fruit has a bell shape, considered the traditional pear shape in the west, and its green skin turns yellow upon later ripening, although red-skinned derivative varieties exist. It is considered a summer pear, not as tolerant of cold as some varieties. It is often eaten raw, but holds its shape well when baked, and is a common choice for canned or other processed pear uses.


Bartlett pear, from The Pears of New York (1921) by Ulysses Prentiss Hedrick

The origins of this variety are uncertain. "Bon Chrétien" (Good Christian) is named after Francis of Paola, a holy man whom King Louis XI of France had called to his deathbed as a healer in 1483. Francis offered the king a pear seed from his native Calabria with instructions to plant and care. Hence the pear tree was called "Good Christian". The Williams pear is thought to date from 1765 to 1770 from the yard of an Aldermaston, England, schoolmaster named John Stair,[1] giving rise to the now-obscure synonyms 'Aldermaston' pear and 'Stairs' pear. A nurseryman named Williams later acquired the variety, and after introducing it to the rest of England, the pear became known as the Williams Pear.[2] However, the pear's full name is Williams' Bon Chretien, or "Williams' good Christian."[2]

In 1799 James Carter imported several Williams trees into the United States, and they were planted on the grounds of Thomas Brewer in Roxbury, Massachusetts.[2] The Massachusetts estate was later acquired by Enoch Bartlett of Dorchester, Massachusetts. Unaware of their origin, Bartlett named the pears after himself and introduced the variety into the United States. It was not realised that Bartlett and Williams Pears were the same until 1828, when new trees arrived from Europe.[2] By that time the Bartlett variety had become vastly popular in the United States, and they are still generally known as Bartlett pears in the US and Canada, although there are about 150 other synonyms worldwide.[3]

Physical description[edit]

French red and green varieties

The pear exhibits a pyriform "pear shape," with a rounded bell on the bottom half of the fruit, and then a definite shoulder with a smaller neck or stem end.[2] Williams are aromatic pears, and have what many[who?] consider the definitive "pear flavour".[2] Colours of the pear vary from green (when unripe), to yellow (ripe) and red. Red Bartletts or Williams are very similar to the traditional Williams, aside from ripening to a reddish colour rather than a yellow colour. Red-skinned mutant clones (i.e. "sports") of the Williams are increasing in popularity, including three major varieties in the US: the Max Red Bartlett, the Sensation Red Bartlett, and the Rosired Bartlett. One study of several macrosatellite loci in 63 European Pear (Pyrus communis L.) cultivars did not distinguish Max Red Bartlett and Sensation Red Bartlett from the standard Williams, which was expected since the red mutants were derived from the Williams by mutation.[4] Dozens of other cultivars and hybrids have been created from Williams, created for properties like cold resistance, ripening time, skin colouration, and grafting compatibility.[5]

Best when picked with the internal pressure of the pear is between 110 and 120 kPa (16 and 18 psi), the pear should still be green and relatively hard when picked. Optimum conditions for ripening are in dry shady areas, and ripening usually takes 7 to 10 days from when the pear was picked. As the pear ripens the color will slowly change to a soft yellow and the pear will soften. Commercially produced pears are normally picked and shipped to the stores while green.[6]


Pear trees are usually productive for 50 to 75 years though some still produce fruit after 100 years. A Bon Chrétien tree planted around 1630 in Danvers, Massachusetts is still producing fruit today.[6]

Height: 4.5–6 m (15–20 ft) with slightly less spread
Flowers: White flowers grouped in a corymb
Blooming time: April–May (in the Northern Hemisphere)
Fruit and seeds: Large, golden yellow skin, brownish red blush, classic shape with smooth, white flesh. Harvest from mid-August to mid-September (Northern Hemisphere).
Leaves: The leaves are simple, glossy green leaves that alternate on the twig. They grow up to 8 cm (3 in) long, are thick with slight midrib curves folding the edges inwards. They have fine teeth on the margin.
Elevation: 300–1,500 m (1,000–5,000 ft)
Habitat: Orchards and landscaping[6]

Production and uses[edit]


US pear production[edit]

In 1985, this variety represented 80% of US pear production while in 2004 it represented 50% of reported pear production, displaced primarily by the continuing growth of d'Anjou and Bosc pears, both winter pears more tolerant of cold than the Bartlett.[3][7]

While more pears are sold fresh in the US than processed, Bartlett pears are the primary choice for canned halves, puree, and most pear juice and nectar in the US, comprising about two-thirds of Bartlett production. Bartletts are traditionally known as the canning pear due to their "definitive flavor and sweetness," making them well-suited for many forms of processing.[2]

Named mutants[edit]

List of some "sports" or mutants of the Williams pear.[8]

Date Originator/Country Market Name Mutated From Assignee Habit Flavor Texture Color Plant Patent Number
1908 /Canada Russet Bartlett Golden russet
1924 Stephen G. Nye/ Oregon, US Nye Russet Bartlett[9] more spicy firmer deep yellow with golden russet
1940 /Australia Sensation Red Bartlett
1942 /US Eller
1945 Patented 1 Jul 1947 Moritz/US Max-Red Bartlett Bartlett MacKelvie standard sweeter finer red US plant patent 741
1948, Introduced 1963 James W. Sweeney/ California, US Rosired Bartlett[9] Bartlett Fowler Nurseries Maroon red on picking-ripe fruit. Plant patent 2012
27 Dec 1977 Crisafulli/ Montana, US Bartlett semi-dwarf good red blush US plant patent 4169
14 Apr 1998 Biehn/ Oregon, US Cinnamon Bartlett standard sweeter russet US plant patent 10325
26 Feb 2008 David Lowry/US Carolina Gold Bartlett Associated Fruit standard more tart russet US plant patent 18515


For several decades, the Williams pear has been used actively as a parent in the production of new varieties:

Cross made/Introduced Originator/Country 'Marketed/Name Parent Other Parent Plant Patent Number
1896 C.H. Packham / Australia Packham (Packhams Triumph)[8] Bartlett Uvedals St. Germain
1901/1913 Laxton Brothers/Bedfordshire, England Laxton´s Superb[10] Bartlett Beurré Superfin
1902/1927 Laxton Brothers/Bedfordshire, England Laxton´s Satisfaction[10] Bartlett Beurré Superfin
?/? Laxton Brothers/Bedfordshire, England Laxton´s Progress[10] Bartlett Marie Louise
1920/? England Bristol Cross[8] Bartlett Conference
?/1923 US Gorham[8] Bartlett Josephine de Malines
1931/1945 Robert Patterson/California, US El Dorado[11] Bartlett ?
1956 Italy Butirra Precoce Morettini Bartlett Coscia
?/1964 New York, US Aurora[12] Bartlett Marguerite Marillat
?/1974 England Beth Bartlett Beurré Superfin
1944/1974 Robert C. Lamb/New York, US Highland[13] Bartlett Comice
?/? England Merton Pride[8] Tetraploid Bartlett Hardenpont
?/? Italy Santa Maria[8] Bartlett Coscia
?/1974 F.C. Reimer/Oregon, US Canal Red[14] Max Red Bartlett Forelle
1959/1975 Patented 27 Aug 1974 William H. Griggs/California, US California[14] Max Red Bartlett741 Comice US plant patent 3599
1965/? Canada Harrow Sweet[15] Bartlett Purdue 8051
1974/1990 South Africa Rosemary[15] Bon Rouge Forelle
1985/1997 S.H. Hjeltnes/Sweden,Norway Celina(QTee) Bartlett Colorée de Juillet
Patented 9 Aug 1988 Reimer/US Reimer Max Red Bartlett741 Comice US plant patent 6245
1977/2003 R.L. Bell/Kearneysville, US Shenandoah[16] Max Red Bartlett US 56 112
Patented 30 Jan 2007 White/New Zealand Prem2P Max Red Bartlett741 Nijisseiki US plant patent 17387
Patented 17 Apr 2007 Hart/New Zealand Prem1P Max Red Bartlett741 Nijisseiki US plant patent 17624
2007/? J.R. Breach/Great Britain Misty Rose[17] Red Williams Concorde

Distilled spirits[edit]

The Williams pear is used in making both Poire Williams, a fruit brandy, and Belle de Brillet, an infused cognac.[18]

The pear is also very popular in the western Balkans, where it is distilled into a brandy known as viljamovka, similar to Poire Williams but often with a higher alcohol percentage. Some producers of viljamovka include an entire pear inside each bottle. This is achieved by attaching the bottle to a budding pear tree so that the pear will grow inside it.


  1. ^ Valerie Ayres, "Under the Stars?" John and Frances West Family Group newsletter February 2005
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Pears - Yellow Bartlett - USA Pears". 14 July 2007. Archived from the original on 14 July 2007. Retrieved 20 February 2024.
  3. ^ a b Janick, Jules (1 January 2000). Classic Papers in Horticultural Science. Blackburn Press. ISBN 978-1-930665-06-4.
  4. ^ Wünscha, A., and I. Hormaza. (5 June 2007). "Characterization of variability and genetic similarity of European pear using microsatellite loci developed in apple". Scientia Horticulturae, vol. 113 (1), pp. 37–43, doi:10.1016/j.scienta.2007.02.002. Retrieved 3 October 2007.
  5. ^ National Clonal Germplasm Repository. " NCGR-Corvallis Pyrus Catalog". (Website). Germ Resources Information Network (GRIN). Retrieved 2 October 2007.
  6. ^ a b c "The DeLange Home Page". ww82.delange.org. Archived from the original on 8 August 2013. Retrieved 20 February 2024.
  7. ^ 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 2 October 2007.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Silbereisen, Obstsorten-Atlas
  9. ^ a b Brooks, Olmo. American Society for Horticultural Science. Vol. 83, page 875
  10. ^ a b c Brooks, Olmo. American Society for Horticultural Science. Vol. 68
  11. ^ Brooks, Olmo. American Society for Horticultural Science. Vol. 83
  12. ^ Brooks, Olmo. American Society for Horticultural Science. Vol. 89
  13. ^ HortScience Vol. 10(5):477
  14. ^ a b HortScience. Vol. 10(5):476
  15. ^ a b Brooks, Olmo. HortScience. Vol. 29(9):942-969
  16. ^ Clark, Finn. HortScience. Vol. 41(5):1101-1133
  17. ^ Gasic. HortScience Vol. 55(7):1164-1201
  18. ^ Kleinman, Geoff (3 June 2013). "Review: Belle de Brillet Liqueur - Drink Spirits".

External links[edit]