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Pear (Pyrus communis)

Pear is a deciduous tree from southern, central and western Europe which grows best in light deep soils in a mild climate.

Common name: pear, domestic pear, common pear, European pear

Scientific name: Pyrus communis
Family: Rosaceae

UK provenance: non-native

Interesting fact: the fruit has no hollow at the stem like an apple, instead, when they grow they begin as a narrow cylinder and broaden out, creating the well-known 'pear shape'.

What does pear look like?

Overview: pear trees usually grow to about 12 metres but some can reach up to 20 metres. The crown of the tree is domed and the branches can have spiny twigs. The bark is grey-brown and broken into small square shapes. 

Leaves: alternate, oval, pointed leaves with toothed edges and long stalks. The leaves are light green in spring, turning to gold and then black in autumn.

Flowers: white throughout and appear in clusters up to three centimetres across.

Fruits: grow on long stalks and ripen to a golden yellow colour with sweet, grainy textured flesh.

Look out for: the grey-brown bark has a square shaped pattern.

Could be confused with: Plymouth pear Pyrus cordata, which is a very rare species found only in two locations around Plymouth and Truro. Plymouth pear fruit is brown and woody unlike juicy domestic pears.

Identified in winter by: pear tree twigs are very spiny.

Where to find domestic pear

Pear trees have been grown in gardens and orchards throughout much of the UK since 995 and many cultivars now exist. Naturalised or wild pear (Pyrus pyraster) trees can be found in hedges, woodland margins and old gardens, and on railway banks and waste ground. They spread easily by seed and by discarded cores.

Value to wildlife

The fruit of pear trees are eaten by birds, such as thrush and blackbird, and its flowers are a popular food source for bees. Caterpillars live in the foliage which is a fantastic habitat, providing shelter and sustenance, during their transition into moths and butterflies.

Mythology and symbolism

Pear trees can live up to 250 years and because of this, the ancient Chinese believed the pear was a symbol of immortality.

Famously the pear appears prolifically in the song the Twelve Days of Christmas, in which a 'partridge in a pear tree' was sent by the subject's true love on the first day of Christmas and is subsequently sung as the last line of every repetition. Pear trees appear only in the English version of this song and it is suggested that it may have occurred due to a mistranslation from a French carol.

How we use pear

Pear trees have been cultivated in gardens and orchards to produce sweet, edible fruit. The fruit is also used in perry making and can be cooked.

The timber, or pearwood, is popular in the construction of woodwind instruments and is also used for wood carving. The wood does not retain colour, smell or flavour and resists warping and splintering making it a valuable material for kitchen utensils, spoons and stirrers.

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