Sand pear blossoms appear in early spring followed closely by red-tinged young leaves. Click to download a large version (800x600).
In Jack's Zone 8B yard the sand pears are typically ripe and falling from the tree in late summer. Deer come from miles around to enjoy a feast of fallen sand pear. Click to download a large version (800x600) of this image.
The sand pear is larger than most kinds of pear trees, reaching as high as 40 ft (12 m), with a rounded crown that may spread 20 feet (6 m) or more across. Most individuals are quite smaller, though. In bloom, the tree is almost completely covered with white flowers, putting on a spectacular show in early spring. Individually, the flowers are 1-1.5 in (2.5-3.75 cm) across, with five petals. The fruits are noted for their hardness and grittiness, and many people consider them to be inedible. There are three commonly encountered cultivars in the southern U.S.: 'LeContei' is susceptible to fire blight and the fruit is a typical pear shape; 'Kieffer' produces a large, rounded, very coarse fruit and is tolerant of fire blight; 'Garber' is the most resistant to fire blight, and produces a smaller, rounded, very hard, gritty fruit.
Location Pyrus pyrifolia is native to China and Japan. Dozens of cultivars are grown in Asia.
Pears should not be over fertilized as this can lead to fire blight, a severe bacterial disease. Fertilize pears with about 1 lb. (453 g) for each year of age, up to a maximum of ten lbs (4.5 kg). Use a standard 6-6-6 or similar mixture and apply at the beginning of the growing season and again in mid-summer. If the growing tips and leaves on young branches on your pear tree turn black and appear as though they have been burned, the tree has contracted fire blight. The only recourse is to cut off the infected stems back to healthy wood. Light: Like other fruit trees, pears should be grown in full sun. Moisture: During fruit development pear trees may need supplemental watering. This is especially true on sandy soils. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9 Propagation: Pears do not come true from seed, so desirable specimens must be propagated vegetatively. They are generally chip- or t-budded onto compatible rootstocks appropriate for the soils and climate where they will be grown.
Sand pear trees are planted in yards across The Deep South, possibly as much for the spring flower display as for the hard fruits. Click to download a large version (800x600) of this image.
Sand pear trees typically send numerous long branches straight into the air. In summer the weight of the fruit often bends those branches into an arch bringing branch tips to within feet of the ground. Deer delight in eating the sand pears right from the tree. Click to download a large version (800x600) of this image
Although children may disagree, sand pears are generally considered inedible unless cooked. The fruits are hard and the flesh is grainy, some say "sandy" in texture. They are most useful for making pear butter, preserves, pies and for canning.
Sand pears allowed to ripen on the tree often rot before maturing. Instead, they should be picked when they reach full size and begin to turn yellow. This also prevents maturation of the stone cells which give sand pears their gritty texture. Many growers wrap their pears individually in paper and store at room temperature. I have found that keeping the pears in the refrigerator for several weeks, then allowing them to finish ripening at room temperature produces the best results. (But "best" is a relative term!)
We are not sure what the correct botanical name is for this well known pear. Sand pears are a traditional "Old South" fruit tree, adorning the courtyards of antebellum estates as well as sharecropper backyards from New Orleans to Charleston. We do not know whether these southern mainstays resulted originally from crossing the Chinese pear (Pyrus pyrifolia) with the European pear (P. communis), or are in fact selections from P. pyrifolia.