Arboretum Tree Mob: Sand Pear

We met at the sand pear tree (Pyrus pyrifolia) on Bussey Hill near the Explorer’s Garden on a cool, sunny day.

Sand pear in the Arnold Arboretum
Sand pear (accession 7272C)


Peter Del Tredici, senior research scientist at the Arboretum, said that the tree is called a sand pear because of the stone cells in the fruit that make the fruit gritty. The stone cells have been bred out in cultivars that produce Chinese apple pears — same species, no grit.

The tree had both flowers and new leaves, some of those leaves with a reddish tint. However, the flowers emerge before the leaves and, in the pages of Arnoldia, Del Tredici calls it “the most beautiful flowering tree in the Arboretum.”

…at its peak bloom, it shines like a beacon in the early spring landscape. When first glimpsed from Bussey Hill Road, against a backdrop of tall white pines, it looks like a giant white cloud…

Peter Del Tredici speaks on the sand pear
Peter Del Tredici speaks on the sand pear

E. H. Wilson collected sand pear seeds on his 1907 expedition into China. North Americans were particularly looking to find the wild ancestors of cultivated trees in the rose family, in the hope of creating a cross resistant to fire blight. Three sand pear seedlings were placed in the landscape sometime between 1909 and 1918 and all three survive today.

Sand pear flowers
Sand pear flowers and emerging leaves

The Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana) beat the sand pear to line our city streets because of the compact shape of the Bradford cultivar and because of its smaller fruit, which create less of a mess.

This sand pear tree is now around 105 years old. As of 2009, it was 55 feet tall and 85 feet across.

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