A deciduous tree, usually 30 to 40, occasionally as much as 60 ft high, with a trunk 3 ft through; branches forming short stiff spurs, sometimes spiny. Leaves variable, from ovate, heart-shaped and oval, to almost round; from 1 in. to 4 in. long, up to 2 in. wide, very finely round-toothed or entire; stalk slender, 1 to 2 in. long; the leaves are variable in their downiness, but are either glabrous from the beginning or become nearly or quite so later, and glossy green. Flowers white, 1 to 11⁄2 in. across, produced in corymbs 2 to 3 in. across, each flower on a more or less woolly stalk 1⁄2 to 11⁄2 in. long. Fruits top-shaped or rounded, with a tapering or rounded base.
P. communis, in the broad sense, is a complex species and partly of hybrid origin. It comprises the wild pear, which by selection and by crossing with Other species (probably P. nivalis and P. cordata) gave rise to the orchard pears (P. communis var. culta DC.). These in turn have frequently escaped back into the wild and become so intermingled and interbred with the ancestral wild pear that it is no longer possible to distinguish it from its naturalised offspring. All that can be said is that wild or seemingly wild pears as described above occur over much of Europe, including the British Isles.
In gardens the wild pear has not much claim to notice. Its graceful, often pendulous branches and large crops of flowers are beautiful, but the garden varieties are just as much so, and give useful fruits as well. The common pear (both wild and cultivated) is long-lived and yields an excellent timber, heavy, tough, and durable, which, however, is not plentiful enough to be of much importance in commerce.
cv. ‘Beech Hill’. – A tree of spire-like habit.
P. cordata Desv. P. communis var. cordata (Desv.) Briggs; P. communis var. briggsii Syme – Although sometimes regarded as a variety of P. communis, this is really a very distinct species. It is smaller in all its parts than P. communis. The leaves, sometimes heart-shaped, but often rounded or broadly wedge-shaped at the base, are usually less than 11⁄2 in. long, finely and evenly round-toothed. Flowers smaller, in distinct racemes. Fruits globular, 3⁄8 to 1⁄2 in. in diameter, brown spotted with white, smooth. These small rounded fruits afford the best distinction between this pear and P. communis. Long known as a native of France, Spain, and Portugal, it was, in 1865, also discovered wild in the south-west of England by T. R. Archer-Briggs.
P. cossonii Rehd. P. longipes Coss. & Durieu, not Poit. & Turp.; P. communis var. longipes (Coss. & Durieu) Henry – Also of the P. communis group and very nearly allied to P. cordata, this pear is a native of Algeria, especially in the mountain gorges above Batna. It is a small tree or shrub, with glabrous branchlets. Leaves roundish oval or broadly ovate, 1 to 2 in. long, 1⁄4 to 11⁄2 in. wide, the base sometimes slightly heart-shaped, more especially tapering, very finely and evenly round-toothed, quite glabrous on both sides, lustrous above; stalk slender, 1 to 2 in. long. Flowers white, 1 to 11⁄4 in. across, produced in corymbs 2 to 3 in. in diameter. Fruit about the size and shape of a small cherry, produced on a slender stalk 1 to 11⁄2 in. long, turning from green to brown as it ripens, the calyx-lobes falling away. Introduced to Kew from France in 1875.
The following specimens have been recorded: Edinburgh Botanic Garden, pl. 1903, 46 × 41⁄4 ft (1967); Borde Hill, Sussex, 55 × 4 ft (1968).
P. syriaca Boiss. – This species is related to the wild pear of Europe, from which it differs in its relatively narrower leaves, which are ovate or ovate-lanceolate, up to 2 in. long and 1 in. or slightly more wide. The fruits are smaller, about 3⁄4 in. wide. It occurs wild from Turkey and Cyprus to the Caucasus, Iraq, and Persia.