This species may be best treated as a form of the wild pear Pyrus communis (as Pyrus communis L. subsp. pyraster (L.) Ehrh.).
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[
Pyrus communis auct.
Pyrus communis achras (Gaertn.) Asch. & Graebn.
Pyrus communis pyraster L.
Pyrus communis sylvestris Lam. & DC.
Tree growing in Poland
Photograph by: Wistula
Pyrus pyraster is a spiny deciduous tree that can grow up to 7 metres tall.
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and source of materials. It has in the past been used as a rootstock for cultivated pears, and is sometimes used to make hedges for retaining livestock.
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[
Central and southern Europe - Estaona to Spain, east to Transcaucasia, Ukraine and Bulgaria; W. Asia - Turkey
Thickets and open woods[
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Pyrus pyraster is a very 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[
The fruit of this species has been used as human food since Neolithic times. The plant has also played an important role in the domestication of the cultivated pear Pyrus communis. At the south-western and south-eastern borders of its range there are related taxa with intermediate characters between this species and Pyrus communis[
Fruit - raw or cooked[
]. The fruit is often borne in abundance and is up to 35mm in diameter. It ripens in late summer to early autumn. It is rather hard and astringent at first, but bletts as soon as it falls from the tree and then has quite a good flavour, becoming soft and quite juicy[
The trees are occasionally planted as spiny hedges for landscape management[
Seedlings have been used as rootstocks for cultivated pears, though this is seldom done at present (2017), having been largely replaced by specialist cultivars[
The wood is durable and not very subject to shrinking. It is highly esteemed for making musical instruments[
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.