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Rescue pear, introduced by WSU Mount Vernon NWREC in 1987
Rescue pear, introduced by WSU Mount Vernon NWREC in 1987

History of Pears

The pears cultivated in Europe are thought to have arisen from Pyrus communis, a species native to Europe and Northern Asia. The fruit is small, hard, gritty, sour and astringent, and there is little evidence of its use for food by prehistoric people in Europe. In Japan and China cultivated pears developed from P. pyrifolia, now called Asian pears or Nashi (Japanese word for “pear”). Greek and Roman literature includes lists of cultivated pear varieties and discussed those suitable for wine, perry, or culinary use, while noting that the fruit should not be eaten raw. Through crossing and selection, the quality of pears for fresh eating was gradually improved. In medieval times, France was known for producing the best dessert pears, and many varieties were brought to England after the Norman Conquest in 1066. In 1770 one of the most important varieties still in cultivation today was developed, ‘Williams Bon Chrétien,’ bred by an English schoolmaster. Brought to America in 1797 and planted at an estate in Massachusetts, it was propagated and sold by Enoch Bartlett under his own name, not knowing the true name. Bartlett pears became – and remain today – one of the leading varieties in the USA. As pear orchards became more widespread, new and better seedlings were found and propagated by local farmers. Development and selection of improved varieties has continued to the present day, conducted by both private and state sponsored research programs.

Trials of European pears at WSU Mount Vernon NWREC began in the mid 1960s, to look at the varieties that were commonly available in nurseries, test new introductions, and screen seedlings of local origin that might prove to be better in quality and show improved resistance to disease, especially pear scab. Two new pear introductions resulted:

‘Orcas’ – seedling discovered by Joe Long, a farmer on Orcas Island, WA and sent to the Mount Vernon station in 1972 for testing. The trees are resistant to pear scab and  productive, fruit is large and uniform size, good for canning or drying as well as fresh eating. Introduced in 1986.

‘Rescue’ – found by Knox Nomura, a nursery grower near Buckley, WA. He had seen the pear at fruit shows but the exhibitor never allowed anyone to take cuttings from his tree during his lifetime, and after his death the tree was scheduled for removal to expand an adjacent cemetery. Knox Nomura “rescued” scionwood from this original tree, and sent trees to Mount Vernon in 1975 for testing. Introduced in 1987.

A trial of disease resistant pears that originated in a breeding program at Kearneysville, WV (in cooperation with Dr. Richard Bell) was conducted from 1994 to 2002. One of the selections has been introduced as ‘Blake’s Pride’.

For a summary of pear and Asian pear variety trial results, see Reports.

Pear and Asian Pear Bloom Data

Pear cultivars and selections on trial in 2007

Bosc Pear Commercial Trial 1994–2002

A trial of Bosc pear on different rootstocks, including selected pollinizer varieties, was established in 1994 using both free-standing trees and trees trained to a V-trellis system, to evaluate the commercial potential of a niche market in pears for western Washington growers. The Bosc trees were grafted on rootstocks of Old Home/Provence Quince and Old Home X Farmingdale 217. Trees in some sections were planted at twice the standard density (4′ between trees rather than standard 8′). Trees in the V-trellis training section were grafted on Quince A and Quince C. Pollinizer varieties were Concorde, Conference, Comice (all on Quince C), and Starkrimson. Yields were measured to see if there are significant differences between the various cultural treatments and between varieties. This plot produced good yields and indicates that both Bosc and Conference have potential for consideration as alternative crops for growers in the Puget Sound region.

In 1999, trees of Taylor’s Gold Comice, a russeted variety of standard Comice, were added to the trial. This variety produced high quality fruit with attractive, fully russeted appearance. Young trees showed good productivity. Given the existing promotion of this variety from New Zealand, it has excellent potential as a niche market crop.

Report on this trial

Advanced Pear Selection Trial 1996–2001

Initiated in 1996 in cooperation with Dr. Richard Bell from the Appalachian Fruit Research Station in Kearneysville, West Virginia. One selection, USDA 66131-021, was named Blake’s Pride and introduced in 1999. Some other selections are considered for possible introduction or for inclusion in further breeding programs for disease resistance.

USDA Pear Evaluation

Asian Pears (Nashi)

Asian pears (Pyrus pyrifolia) are indigenous to China, where they have been cultivated for 4,000 years, and there are nearly 3,000 known varieties. Today pear orchards flourish throughout China, especially in the eastern and central regions. The Japanese have grown crunchy pears since the 7th century. The first known American introduction occurred when William Prince of Flushing, NY imported a “sand pear” from China about 1820 as a curiosity. Chinese workers in California after the 1849 Gold Rush planted Asian pear seeds in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and later Japanese immigrants brought cuttings of improved varieties. California remains the major commercial source of Asian pears in North America.

Some early introductions in western Washington did well, while others were not successful, so beginning in 1985 a trial was conducted including some 25 varieties, to see which were well adapted to growing conditions in a cool maritime climate. The major limitations to Asian pear culture in this area are disease susceptibility and the lack of enough summer heat to ripen some varieties to their best quality.

Asian pear cultivars on trial in 2007

Asian Pear Report 1978–1988