Asian pears are not a cross between a pear and an apple, as their nicknames “oriental apple” and “apple pear” might suggest. They are a species of pear that was first cultivated in China thousands of years ago and brought to this country by Chinese miners during the days of the California Gold Rush. The white flesh of this sweet, aromatic fruit is juicy and crisp like that of an apple, but with a succulent pear flavor more often associated with familiar European pears such as ‘Bartlett’ and ‘Bosc’.
The Asian pear has thousands of varieties, most of them round or oval in shape. The three dozen or so cultivars produced in the United States include ‘Hosui’, a pretty, rosy, gold-skinned pear with an intoxicating aroma of brandy; ‘Seuri’, an orange-skin variety with the essence of apricot; and ‘Shin Li’, with yellow-green skin and a slight cinnamon fragrance.
Unlike European pears, which are picked green and ripen only in storage, Asian pears ripen on the tree, making theirs a great backyard tree for anyone who enjoys fresh-picked fruit at its flavorful best. Asian pears are highly ornamental and make a great addition to just about any landscape where a small- or medium-size tree is needed. A mature tree may reach 20 to 40 feet in height, while dwarf varieties will grow to only about 10 feet. Large, white, spring flowers; glossy, green, summer foliage that turns bright yellow in the fall; and bushels of colorful ripe pears all add interest throughout the seasons.
You can grow Asian pears almost anywhere that European pears will grow. Be sure to check with a local nursery to see which varieties will do best in your area. All that pears require is a spot that is sunny for most of the day; rich, well-drained soil; and a thick layer of organic mulch or compost that will continuously nourish the tree while retaining soil moisture.
Most Asian pears are at least partially self-fruitful and do not require another pear in order to set fruit. However, cross-pollination will create larger fruit and a bigger yield. Some European pears—especially ‘Bartlett’—can be used as pollinators for most Asian varieties; when grown together, they may just make a perfect pear.