172. History and Some of the Pear Races

High-grade pears for dessert use may be.said to be a modern development in west Europe and the United States. Pears were cultivated in the early days of the Roman Empire, but Pliny says of them: "All pears whatever are but heavy meat unless they are well boiled or baked." The real development of the pear for dessert use began in the seventeenth century. Belgium has the credit for the first remarkable advances of which Van Mons was the noted leader in the early part of the nineteenth century. The pears of west Europe were introduced into this country at an early day and at this time a large part of our best dessert and culinary varieties have been developed from the seed of the best European varieties and of the sand pear of China.

All modern writers make the statement that the modern dessert and culinary varieties have come from these two sources together with their American-born seedlings. They also include the Russian varieties introduced by the writer as a race of the Pyrus communis of west Europe. In reaching this conclusion a third distinct race or species that seems to have been anciently developed in central Asia has been overlooked. Dr. A. Regel, after living in Sungaria and Turkestan nine years, wrote: "The pear is more extensively cultivated in the Amu-Daria River district than in other parts of central Asia. The firm-fleshed pears of Suidum are famed for their rich aroma, and the large yellow pears of Sharsause are equally popular. The pears mainly grown in Darwas are a large green variety and a smaller sugary-sweet variety. In Shugnan there is a yellow pear which, on some trees in the garden of the Shah, develops singular forms like birds, and another variety with rarely rich juicy flesh and which attains considerable size." He speaks of varieties of large size and good quality that seemed to have been anciently cultivated. As Dr. Regel was educated in Germany, he was acquainted with the pears originated by Van Mons and urged that the ancient pears of Oriental origin were superior to any he had tested in Germany.

These ancient good pears of central Asia seem to have been extended east of the Ural range, as the late Charles Gibb of Abbottsford, Canada, a month prior to his death in Cairo, Egypt, spent a few days in Mongolia. He wrote from thence to the writer, stating that he was surprised to find pears of large size and excellent melting, juicy quality grown on very large and old trees. All of the varieties had snow-white flesh, and it was claimed that they very nearly came true from seed. He enclosed a few seeds from which we have grown trees now in bearing. They differ some in season and size of fruit, but all have tender, melting, white flesh as good in quality as the Mongolian snow. The variety we have named Gibb bore quite a full crop last year in Ames, and at this writing it is laden with young fruit, when the tree has a diameter of stem of only two inches, four years after the planting of a one-year-old tree. It is of the size of Bartlett, pyriform in shape, and nearly equal to the Bartlett in quality.

Without doubt this snow-pear race of north central Asia has had much to do with the development of the Russian pears, extensively grown on the bluffs of the Volga in Russia, by crossing with the indigenous species. Several of the Russian pears now growing in the Western States have the close-textured, shining, sharply serrated leaves of the Oriental snow-pears and also their white flesh. But not one of them yet tested is as good in quality for dessert use as the snow-pears of Mongolia. The largest tree of any kind seen by the writer on the Volga, from the 57th parallel south to the Caspian Sea, was a pear-tree of this Oriental type on the bluffs of the Volga on the 56th parallel of north latitude.

What is known to botanists as snow-pear (Pyrus nivalis), as grown in Europe for perry making, is a small tree with small, roundish fruit, becoming sweet when over-ripe. But the Peli or snow-pear we have growing from Mongolia, makes a large tree, and the smallest fruit we have seen is pyriform and as large as Flemish beauty. The pears with silvery leaves and white-colored flesh of central Asia also attain very large size of tree and some of them bear white-fleshed fruits of large size. As the orchard fruits of north central Asia, the valley of the Amur, Mongolia, and Manchuria become better known, the fact will be recognized that they are distinct races and possibly distinct species, and also that they were the most anciently cultivated good fruits. Henry Lansdell,. D.D., in his "Russian Asia" says on page 375 of volume , that good fruits seem to grow wild in the Province of Zarafshan, of cherry, plum, apples, pears, and apricots that seem to have escaped from cultivation as planted by birds and animals or from deserted plantations that have run wild.