Common Name: Asian Pears
Scientific Name: Pyrus species
Family: Rosaceae (the Rose family)
- Chinese Pear, Nashi Pear, Sand Pear (Pyrus pyrifolia)
- Siberian Pear, Harbin Pear (Pyrus ussuriensis)
- Chinese White Pear, Ya Pear (Pyrus x bretschneideris)
Asian Pears are not nearly as common in the West as their closely related cousin, the European Pear, but they are quickly gaining in popularity. They are typically round (apple-shaped), although the Chinese White Pear is more “pear”-shaped. Asian Pears are more similar to an apple in texture and a cross between an apple and European Pear in flavor. They are at their best when picked ripe. All you need is to taste a perfectly ripe Asian Pear, and you will make room for it in your Forest Garden.
There are three types of Asian pears.
- Round or roundish-flat fruit with green to yellow skin
- Round or roundish-flat fruit with yellow to brown skin and bronze to gold russet (little dots)
- Pear-shaped with green skin or brown skin and bronze russet
Native to the eastern Asia, specifically China, Korea, and Japan, Asian Pears are now grown throughout their native land as well as in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.
- Asian Pears are the oldest known cultivated pear.
- Asian Pears contain enzymes that tenderize meat, which is why they are used in marinades.
- Fresh eating – Asian Pears are more similar to an Apple in texture and a cross between an Apple and European Pear in flavor. Eat when fully ripe or it will be dry and hard. Great in salads.
- Cooking – Asian Pears have a high water content, so they are not used identical to European Pears. They are great when used for marinating (see trivia below). Drier varieties may be used for cooking, baking, pies, tarts, etc., but they really are best cooked after they have been pureed. The crisp texture is not softened with cooking as with European Pears.
- Sauces – In Asia, the pears are often ground and mixed into sauces instead of other sweeteners
- Preserved – Preserves, Jams, Jellies, etc – will often need longer cooking times to reduce the high water content. Asian Pears dehydrate very well, and the dehydrated fruit can be used in many recipes for desserts or just eaten as is.
- General insect (especially bees) nectar and pollen plant
- Wildlife food
- Wildlife shelter
- Primary or adjunt flavor component in beer, wine, cider, perry, mead, liquor, etc.
- Can likely be Coppiced, although I can find no good reference for this.
- Wood – Poles, posts, stakes, tools, crafts
- Wood – Firewood, charcoal
- Wood – Smoking/Barbeque: pear wood gives a soft “fruity” smoke to meats, similar to apple wood
Yield: Standard root stock – 3-8 bushels (105-280 liters) or 170-450 lbs (80-200 kg); semi-dwarf root stock – 1-2 bushels (35-70 liters); dwarf root stock – 1 bushel (35 liters) or 56 lbs (25 kg)
Harvesting: Late Summer to Autumn (August-October), but can vary based on variety and location. Pick when still crunchy (like an apple) and giving off a strong aroma – the strong and sweet fragrance of a ripe Asian Pear is the key to knowing when it is ripe. Softness is used to help determine ripeness in European Pears, but not Asian Pears.
Storage: Best when used right away, but can be stored for up to a month or more if kept in a cool, dry place and handled carefully to prevent bruising
DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 4-9, but really depends on the species and variety
AHS Heat Zone: Zone 9-3, but really depends on the species and variety
Chill Requirement: 300-750 chilling hours/units depening on the variety
Plant Type: Small to Medium-sized Tree depending on the root stock
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer, Sub-Canopy (Understory) Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Many varieties available. (see my article about Asian Pear varieties)
Pollination: Asian Pears traditionally require cross-pollination, although a few varieties are self-fruitful. This requires two different varieties of Asian Pear. Some European Pears (Pyrus communis) will cross-pollinate Asian Pears. Because there is such a wide variety of pears and cross-pollination variations, it is best to get cross-pollination information from the nursery or catalog company you are purchasing your pears. Pollinated by insects.
Flowering: Spring (May)
Years to Begin Bearing: 3-7 years depending on the variety and rootstock
Years of Useful Life: up to 300 years. Dwarfing rootstocks live shorter lives
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
- Chinese Pear (Pyrus pyrifolia): 25-30 feet (7.5-9 meters) tall and 20-25 feet (6-7.5 meters) wide
- Siberian Pear (Pyrus ussuriensis): 30-50 feet (9-15 meters) tall and 25-30 feet (7.5-9 meters) wide
- Chinese White Pear (Pyrus x bretschneideris): 20-25 feet (6-7.5 meters) tall and 10-20 feet (3-6 meters) wide
Growth Rate: Medium
GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates very little shade… shade is best avoided with pears
Moisture: Medium soil moisture preferred
pH: most species prefer fairly neutral soil (6.0-7.5), but many can tolerate a bit wider pH ranges
Special Considerations for Growing:
- Pears to not tolerate juglone (natural growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut and its relatives). Make sure you have other varieties of trees and shrubs as a buffer between your walnuts and pears.
- Pears are susceptible to Fire Blight, Pear Scab, and Canker, so try to choose varieties that are resistant to these diseases.
- Make sure to consider flowering times when planning which varieties you choose. You need to make sure that you have compatible varieties (i.e. ones that will pollinate each other) flowering at the same time.
Named varieties are usually grafted because pear cultivars do not grow “true to type”, meaning that seeds will grow into trees that produce fruit that is likely to be nothing like the parent stock. If growing from seed, they will need 8-16 weeks cold stratification for germination. Less improved species and non-cultivars are often grown from seed.
Typically, Asian Pears are pruned once a year to once every 2-3 years.