Pears were valued as a fruit before recorded history began The ancient Greek philosopher, Theophrastus (371-287 BC) was familiar with different varieties and described the grafting and budding techniques used for their propagation, learned from the East. It is likely that several wild pear species came together to originate the wide variety of fruit pears known today, but the origins are still unknown. The wild pear, Pyrus Communis, which originated in south-east Europe and north Asia, is barely edible but has most of the characteristics of cultivated pears and is quite variable in the wild, so it is possible that this species, alone, might have been the origin. We tend to think of pears as being of a particular shape but history records quite a wide variation, and many old trees in Britain still show these smaller or different characteristics, particularly among perry pears.
The trees can be very long lived and can grow very tall with deep root systems. Ancient trees, being replanted in Herefordshire and elsewhere, had to be removed with teams of steam traction engines, up to the 1930s. There is an old still-living pear tree in America with a provenance that confirms it at nearly 400 years old. It goes to show that our own rich heritage of old varieties still exists here and there in Britain, and merely waits to be found, investigated and brought back to public knowledge after decades of neglect.
 
 
 
 
 

 

In Victorian times, there were thousands of different varieties known and grown. It is an indictment of modern times that so few are now known, cared about or enquired into. The majority, of the very few varieties consumed in this country, are grown abroad. But they are poorer than a home grown, peak of ripeness pear, fresh from the tree, and few now know of the many cooking pears which can be stored over the winter.

Pears are more vigorous than apples, and cannot be grafted onto really dwarfing rootstocks, though quince rootstocks do reduce the scale, compared to using a pear rootstock. Our pears are grafted onto Quince, dwarfing the natural vigour of the pears to more manageable size. Some are grafted on to the more vigorous Pyrus (pear) stock, on an occasional or ‘to order’ basis.

 


Pollination considerations are slightly different to apples, but the same factors apply. If several pears are planted, there should be no problem with pollination, given clement weather and pollinating insects. If four or less are planted, care should be given as to which varieties to plant. As with apples, triploids are unreliable pollinators, and some non-triploids would be needed. Some pears are male sterile and will produce no viable pollen. Also, a few pears are incompatible fertilisers of others, and these cases are noted in the descriptions. Some are partly self fertile and would need no other tree to set some fruit, though this should not be relied upon. Work has been done on flowering times, but is incomplete and the studies have sometimes produced conflicting information. It also seems that relative flowering times vary with climate and location. Having said that, there is less of a problem here than with apple trees, since the flowering times of pears tend to overlap each other much more closely. We have recorded flowering times of our trees here and apart from a few (noted in the descriptions) most overlap sufficiently for good cross pollination. On the other hand, pears tend to flower earlier than apples, so blossom can be more prone to frost damage. Early or late flowering trees still overlap the middle range to an extent and should cross pollinate well enough in most years, but if planting only a few trees it is best to avoid planting only early and late flowering trees together. Select varieties from the same pollination group or the one adjacent.