Quick facts

Common name: Plymouth pear

Scientific name: Pyrus cordata

Family: Rosaeceae

Origin: native

Plymouth pear is a deciduous shrub that can reach 8–10m high. It has purplish twigs with pink-brown heartwood.

Look out for: the shape of the fruit which is not that of a classic pear. They are almost round on long stalks and small.

Identified in winter by: hairless twigs with alternate, oval, purple-brown buds.

What does Plymouth pear look like?

Plymouth pear leaves

Credit: Nature Photographers Ltd / WTML

Leaves

Vary in shape from elliptical (oval) to rounded, with a wedge-shaped, rounded or heart-shaped base.

Plymouth pear flower in spring sunshine

Credit: Ross Jollife / Alamy Stock Photo

Flowers

Pale cream to pink flowers that appear in late April and early May. Flowers have a smell that has been described as decaying scampi or wet carpet, which attracts mainly flies.

Plymouth pear fruit growing on tree

Credit: Nature Photographers Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Fruits

Small, hard and rounded. It has a brown and woody appearance when first ripe.

Not to be confused with:

Domestic pear (Pyrus communis) or wild pear (Pyrus Pyraster). Plymouth pear fruits are smaller and rounder than other pears. It also has purplish twigs, instead of the grey-brown twigs of the domestic pear, and spinier branches.

Did you know?

Plymouth pear has an inbuilt control mechanism (called self-incompatibility) which prevents inbreeding. This is why the tree is still so rare.

Where to find Plymouth pear

Plymouth pear is one of Britain's rarest trees and is thought to live exclusively in wild hedgerows in Plymouth and Truro. It might have once been a widespread species in mixed woodlands.

While it can grow in shade, it prefers full sun and thrives best at the edge of woodlands and in hedgerows in moist soil.

Globally, this species is restricted to Western Europe with populations in the UK, where it is native; France; north-west Spain and Portugal.

Some believe they are an introduced species since populations in France live in ancient woodland, whereas the UK trees are located in suburban habitats.

Value to wildlife

Once ripe, the fruit becomes much fleshier and is a food source for wildlife and a favourite with local blackbirds.

Did you know?

Keen gardener Arthur Watson gifted a Plymouth pear he had nurtured for over 20 years to the Queen for her Diamond Jubilee. It now grows in a corner of the palace garden.

Threats and conservation

Plymouth pear is very rare in the UK and has suffered from changing climates and removal of hedgerows, making it more susceptible to disease and cross-fertilisation with other pears.

This species is the focus of conservation efforts because it represents a scarce and unique genetic resource. It hybridises well with domestic pears, which may have horticultural value in the future.

It is the only tree species to be protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Because of its rarity, seeds from its fruit have been deposited at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank.