Monday, March 18, 2013

Permaculture Plants: Asian Pears

The Asian Pear is quite different than its European relative.

Common Name: Asian Pears
Scientific Name: Pyrus species
Family: Rosaceae (the Rose family)

Asian Pears can be russeted and light brown or clear and yellow.

Common Species:
  • 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.

Fall Fruit Salad with Asian Pears

Asian Pear and Tangerine Salad

Asian Pear Wine and Liquors by Subarashi Kudamono (means "wonderful fruit" in Japanese)

Primary Uses:
  • 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.

Secondary Uses:
  • 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

Asian Pears will be covered in the beautiful flowers every Spring.
'Large Korean' variety of Chinese Pear (Pyrus pyrifoliaI)

Siberian Pear (Pyrus ussuriensis)

Siberian Pear (Pyrus ussuriensis)

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)

Life Span:
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

Siberian Pear (Pyrus ussuriensis) in Autumn
Chinese Pear (Pyrus pyrifolia) in Autumn waiting for harvest

Asian Pear in Autumn after a frost

  • 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

Roots: Fibrous
Growth Rate: Medium

Harvesting a large Asian Pear at Virginia Gold Orchards

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.



  1. How long is it likely to take from a seedling to a fruiting tree? I was surprised to find an Asian pear growing in a pot almost a year after I sowed it! I have potted it up in a deep pot and will be overwintering it in the polytunnel. Our grafted Asian pear does incredibly well here on heavy clay soil, but I am wondering how long I may have to wait for the first fruit from this seedling growing on its own roots of course.

    1. I live in Minnesota and grew 4 Asian pear trees from seeds back in 2011. This year 2 trees had flowers and start forming fruits

  2. I live in NE WI in USDA Z4b. A number of years ago, I obtained scionwood of 22 cvs. of Asian pears, and grafted them on Pyrus ussuriensis (very hardy, but itself inedible) rootstock. In one of those occasional "test winters" we hit below -30 F. and 20 of those grafted cvs. died (the rootstock was undamaged). The best of the 2 survivors was 'Japanese Golden Russet' (the old Southmeadow Nursery offering) -- lots of fruit every year, though I personally like my European pear cvs. like 'Gourmet', 'Luscious', etc., much, much more.

    1. As to bernies question i believe that might take about 6 to 8 seasons to produce if grown well. I am interested in what the other survivor of the 22 cvs. of Asain pears that survived those test winters. I remember rather old asain pear trees in zone 3 wisconsin and missed the chance to get scion wood from one cut down recently.

    2. As to bernies question i believe that might take about 6 to 8 seasons to produce if grown well. I am interested in what the other survivor of the 22 cvs. of Asain pears that survived those test winters. I remember rather old asain pear trees in zone 3 wisconsin and missed the chance to get scion wood from one cut down recently.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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