Pyrus × lecontei
In spite of their wide geographic distribution, the various species in the genus Pyrus are intercrossable without major incompatibility barriers. Also, the high morphological diversity and the lack of distinguishing characters among the species have been reported. Therefore, the classification of species in this genus is problematic and often confusing, giving different populations designated as different species by some authors. It is likely that, when the genus is reviewed, there will be several changes to the nomenclature[
Common Name: Le Conte Pear
Pyrus x lecontei is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 8 metres tall.
The plant is occasionally cultivated for its edible fruit - there are some named varieties.
Although no specific information has been seen for this plant, the seed of many species in the family Rosaceae are likely to contain cyanogenic glycosides. When injested, these compounds break down in the digestive tract to release cyanide. Used in small quantities in both traditional and conventional medicine, this exceedingly poisonous compound has been shown to stimulate respiration, improve digestion, and promote a sense of well-being[
]. It is also claimed by some to be of benefit in the treatment of cancer - though this claim has been largely refuted.
In larger concentrations, however, cyanide can cause gasping, weakness, excitement, pupil dilation, spasms, convulsions, coma and respiratory failure leading to death[
The levels of toxin can be detected by the level of bitterness:- sweet almonds, for example, contain only very low levels of it and are safe to eat in quantity, whilst bitter almonds (which are used as a flavouring in foods such as marzipan) contain much higher levels and should only be eaten in very small quantities. Great caution should be employed if the taste is moderately to very bitter[
A garden hybrid, Pyrus communis x Pyrus pyrifolia.
Not known in the wild.
Pyrus × lecontei is a fairly cold-hardy plant, tolerating temperatures down to at least -15°c when dormant[
Prefers a good well-drained loam in full sun[
]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Tolerates light shade but does not fruit so well in such a position. Tolerates atmospheric pollution, excessive moisture and a range of soil types if they are moderately fertile[
]. Established plants are drought tolerant[
This hybrid species has a greater resistance to fireblight than either of its parents though the fruit quality is poorer[
]. Occasionally cultivated for its edible fruit, there are some named varieties[
Some of the varieties of Asian Pear (Pyrus pyrifolia culta) were introduced to the United States in the first half of the 18th century and, crossed with European sorts, gave rise to a race of hybrids for which the botanical name is Pyrus × lecontei Rehder, of which the type is the variety 'Leconte'. These hybrids are better adapted to the climate of the southern states of the USA than the European orchard varieties[
Fruit - raw or cooked. The flesh is crisp-fleshed like that of the Asian pears and is ready to eat when picked. It requires no further ripening and can store for several days to several months[
]. Occasionally eaten fresh, it is more commonly cooked in pies, preserves etc[
]. A sour taste[
]. The fruit is up to 8cm long and 5cm wide[
Seed - best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe in the autumn, it will then usually germinate in mid to late winter. Stored seed requires 8 - 10 weeks cold stratification at 1°c and should be sown as early in the year as possible[
]. Temperatures over 15 - 20°c induce a secondary dormancy in the seed[
]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame or greenhouse for their first year. Plant them out in late spring or early summer of the following year. This species is a hybrid and is unlikely to breed true to type from seed.