Pears in Texas: Old Favorites

Cynthia W. Mueller, Galveston County Master Gardener

Pears are are old favorites among Texas backyard fruit growers, and with the rise in popularity of the 'Wildlife' agricultural exemption, even have their place on many rural properties as a source of wildlife food. Deer, possums, raccoons, squirrels - even hogs - will gather to feast on pears. Squirrels are notorious for not waiting till the fruit ripens. Practically as soon as pears are marble sized, every day they will try a few more green samples. Pears are reliable and tough enough to be planted out and left to their own devices in the brush or the edge of grazing areas in many circumstances after a year or two of careful watering to help them to become established.

pear variety 'Le Conte'
Pear Variety 'Le Conte'

Pears bloom heavily in the spring with fragile but decorative white blossoms, followed by edible fruit, unless a proper pollinator is lacking.

Many times locations of former homesteads are revealed through the pear trees that are still to be found around the site of the old home, often in conjunction with other survivors, such as "ditch lilies" (Crinum bulbispermum) and crape myrtles. Descriptions of the following pears may help to identify old trees that are still present in yards and rural landscapes.

A well known old pear variety is Le Conte - which is thought to be a hybrid bertween the Chinese Sand pear and a European pear, with parentage similar to Kieffer, which it greatly resembles in both tree and fruit. The horticulturalist Charles Downing was said to believe that the LeConte pear came to a Major Le Compte (or Le Conte) as a Chinese Sand pear seedling from a major nursery, possibly from Prince's Flushing nursery. The major evidently carried the tree from Philadelphia to Georgia about 1850 and it ultimately became popular in warm Southern areas with light soils. The fruits should be harvested as soon as they ripen.

The tree is medium in size, a vigorous grower and a regular bearer. The book, 'The Pears of New York, Report of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station, 1921', describes its branches as strongly zig-zag, brownish-red in color mingled with green and covered with "scarf-skin" (cuticle-like growths on the surface of the skin) and raised lenticels (the typical "spots" found along the bark of pear branches). The creamy-yellow, bell-shaped fruit ripen rather late in the season. The Le Conte is considered a good eating pear for Texas.

Following are some remarks on pear varieties by Dr. Thomas Handwerker, former Texas Extension Specialist:

Ayers - was developed by Brooks D. Drain of Tennessee Agriculture Experiment Station as a Garber x Anjou hybrid in 1937 and introduced in 1954. It ripens early in the season. The fruit flesh is juicy, sweet, and good for fresh consumption or canning. The fruit is small, yellow and has an attractive red blush. The fruit flesh is low in grit cells. Ayers has been reported to be self-sterile, requiring a pollinator.

Fan-stil - originated from Mexico around the 1900's. Introduced by Fanick Nursery (San Antonio, Tx). Ripens in early August. The fruit is smooth, with melting flesh. Similar to Le Conte but more fire blight resistant.

Garber - is an oriental pear hybrid selected by J. B. Garber of Columbia, Pa prior to 1880. It has been krown as a home pear in Texas for many years. The fruit is early ripening, has a pale yellow color, pleasant odor, and apple shape. The tree is relatively resistant to fire blight but has a tendency to lose its leaves early in the fall. Garber is the female parent of the Ayers variety.

Kieffer - was selected by Peter Kieffer of Rosborough, Pa as an oriental pear hybrid in 1863. It has since become one of the most widely grown pears in the south. The fruit ripens early and is hard, coarse, contains moderate grit cells, and lacks characteristic pear flavor. When properly ripened, it develops good eating quality. Kieffer is a good processing pear, suitable for canning and pickling. However, it is less suited for preserves. Kieffer trees are vigorous, very productive, heat tolerant and fire blight tolerant. Limbs of Kieffer can become infested with fire blight with the tree continuing to produce fruit and sustain long life. Kieffer is reported to be self-sterile, requiring a pollinator.

Magness - was released by the USDA (Beltsville, Md) in 1960. It is tolerant to fire blight but is recommended only for the cooler areas of Texas. Pollen is sterile and does not pollinate other varieties. Fruit is medium size, oval, with only a little russet. The tree is very vigorous and slow to come into bearing.

Maxine - is thought to be propagated by E. M. Bulchley of Greenville, Ohio about 1900 from an old tree found in Preble County, Ohio, but its origin is unknown. The flesh is moderately firm and contains a low number of grit cells. The fruit is a midseason variety and has excellent quality. It can be eaten fresh or used as a good processor. The tree is vigorous and productive. The Maxine has been listed by some writers as synonymous with 'Starkings Delicious' pear.

Moonglow - was developed and released by the USDA at Beltsville, Md. in 1960. The tree is vigorous, upright, and bears at an early age. The fruit are large and attractive with juicy, subacid flesh which has very few grit cells. Moonglow is a good fresh eating and processing pear that ripens early in the season. The skin has been reported to be bitter but not objectionable. Moonglow is an excellent pollinator variety.

Monterrey - originated in Mexico and was introduced in 1952 by Aldridge Nursery (Von Ormy, TX). The fruit is large, with yellow skin, with a flesh almost free of grit cells. Tree is vigorous and resembles the Pineapple pear. It ripens in late August.

Orient - was developed as a French x Oriental hybrid cross by Walter Van Fleet of Chico, California prior to 1925 and introduced by the Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station and USDA in 1945. The tree has an excellent shape which is easy to train. Mature trees have been reported to be annual producers which retain their leaves well into fall. The fruit is large, relatively hard and has a russet skin when mature. The fruit flesh is beautifully white, firm, juicy, and slightly sweet. Orient is reported to have a very low chilling requirement, making it particularly adapted to South Texas. Orient is reported to be self-sterile, requiring a pollinator. It is a popular choice for the home garden.

Pineapple - is an oriental hybrid which was selected by Georgia Agricultural Experiment Station and is commonly grown across the south. The fruit ripens early and is very hard, even when fully ripe. It makes excellent preserves, but is poor as a canning and sliced fruit because it disintegrates when cooked. Pineapple has a high grit cell content. The tree is vigorous and has a history of long tree life.

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