pear, name for a fruit tree of the genus Pyrus of the family Rosaceae (rose family) and for its fruit, a pome. The common pear (P. communis) is one of the earliest cultivated of fruit trees, both in its native W Asia and in Europe. Most of the pear strains grown for their sweet and juicy fruit in Europe and North America are varieties of P. communis or of its hybrids with other species of Pyrus—usually P. pyrifolia, known as the Asian, Japanese, Chinese, or sand pear and indigenous to China; the fruit is broad at the base, generally narrowing toward the stem. The Asian pear also is grown for its fruit, which is crisp, juicy, sweet, and more applelike in shape, and has been used as a rootstock in orchards of common pears. The related quince is similarly used as a rootstock.

Common pear strains with fruit of really good eating quality were not developed until the 18th and 19th cent. in N Europe, whence almost all the present successful varieties (e.g., the Bartlett, Anjou, Bosc, Comice, and Seckel) grown in the United States (chiefly on the Pacific coast and in the Great Lakes area) were directly imported. European production is far greater—especially in Germany, France, and Switzerland, where much of the crop is used for making pear cider (perry). Pears are also cultivated on a large scale in Japan, Turkey, Argentina, and Australia. They are usually sold fresh or canned; some are dried.

Several varieties of the common pear and of other species—e.g., the small, white-foliaged snow pear (P. nivalis) of SE Europe and W Asia and the callery pear (P. calleryana) of China and Vietnam—have been used as ornamentals. The cultivars of the callery pear, such as the Bradford pear, however, have become become invasive in many parts of the E United States, sometimes forming dense stands.

The pear tree and its fruit are similar to the closely related apple (considered by some botanists to be of the same genus) in characteristics and in method of cultivation, but the tree is somewhat less hardy and the common pear's fruit is more perishable. Pear or fire blight is the tree's most serious disease; it is also attacked by several insect pests. Pear wood, hard and dense, is used to a limited extent in cabinetmaking. Pears are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Rosaceae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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