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Wood of the month: Pear


European pearwood: A valuable source for lumber and veneer.

The pear tree is an ancient one. Greek poet Homer, circa 700 B.C., wrote of the species. And the ancient Greeks, according to "The Encyclopedia of Wood," referred to the archipelago of the Peloponnese in the Mediterranean as Apia -- the land of pear trees.

Today, pear trees grow in the United States, Europe, Australia and Western Asia. While pearwood is the common term for commercial and veneer, especially in the United States, other names include: wild pear and choke pear, alligator pear, dogwood pear, Chinese pear, white pear, Nigerian pear, elsbeere, and "native" pear, which grows in western Australia.

In Europe, said Ekke Hoppe, of M. Bohlke Veneer Co., pearwood is often called by the German elsbeere, which roughly translated means wild berry. Hoppe said it is the wild pears that most often are used for commercial timber since they tend to grow taller than the orchard variety. While wild pears also yield fruit, it is harsh tasting and unlike the sweet dessert variety, Hoppe said.

These wild pears grow singly or in small groups, ideally on dry plains rather than in forests, Hoppe said. "It is generally believed that the best pearwood today comes from Europe and western Asia," Hoppe said. Those trees average 27 to 36 feet, although they can reach heights of 45 feet or more. Diameters range from 18 to 24 inches. "It is not a tall tree, but suitable for veneer purposes," said Hoppe.

It is used as an architectural wood, rising in popularity in the United States and other markets. "Pearwood is and has been a beautiful wood. It is one of the woods of the world that ages well. If you would find it in a bedroom suite you would see that its warm tones get better as it gets older. It is a relatively rare wood. You won't find thousands of square feet of it. But it is available. Swiss pearwood is an especially popular European variety," Hoppe said.

European pear is often used for musical instruments, such as recorders. It is also popular for musical instrument parts, such as guitar fingerboards, piano keys and violin fingerboards. As a decorative veneer its uses include marquetry and inlay work, cabinetry and paneling.

Other common uses for pearwood include fancy turnery items. Wooden bowls, brushbacks, umbrella handles and measuring instruments are made from pearwood. Pearwood is also an excellent wood for sculpturing because of its extremely fine grain. Because of its fine texture, pear is compared by some to boxwood; both are used for making printing blocks.

Wood workings

Pear yields a non-durable, insect-susceptible heartwood that ranges from a flesh color to pinkish-brown with extremely fine rays and pores. The sapwood is a pale yellow. It has a straight grain and a fine, even texture, but occasionally has a leafy-grained or mottled figure.

Average weight for the trees is 44 pounds per cubic foot with a specific gravity of 0.70. Pear trees have long life spans, with some as old as 80 years.

According to Hoppe, pearwood is a "slow drying wood and must be handled carefully or shakes will develop." Air and kiln drying should be closely monitored to avoid any degrade, but kiln drying offers the best results.

Pearwood is a tough, strong wood that is not suitable for steam bending. It machines well but can be rough to saw. Pearwood can also have a blunting effect on cutters. The wood finishes and polishes extremely well; when used for musical instruments, such as recorders, it is often stained black. Historically, pearwood has been used as a substitute for ebony.

Fruit facts

There are roughly hundreds of pear varieties around the world, yielding both edible and non-edible fruit. The first trees are believed to come from a wild variety. Its fruit, unlike the famed fruit of most pear trees, was inedible. But some of what is sold as commercial timber today once bore fruit in European orchards.

Pearwood, Pyrus communis or common pear, of the Family Rosaceae is a Eurasian species that is cultivated in the United States and around the world for its fruit. Japanese and Chinese pears, also called Oriental pears, are descendants of the wild sand pear of China.

Pears and other fruit trees are grown by grafting the desired variety on a rootstock. French pear seedlings are used commonly in the United States, even though the seeds come from areas in Europe other than France. Today's seedlings come from pear canneries and usually from Bartlett pears.

Common or European pear trees yield varieties such as Bartlett, Anjou, Bosc, Hardy, Seckel and Winter Nelis, Oriental pears have been crossed with the common pear to give sweeter, less gritty pears and this cross-breeding has produced the popular varieties Kieffer and LeConte. Pure strands of oriental pears also grow in orchards in California.

Pear trees grow in a variety of soils and they do well in soil that is heavily and wet. Some varieties flourish in hot dry climates, while others thrive in cold climates.

Pear trees are susceptible to insects and also to diseases. Common pears are especially vulnerable to fire blight. It is so frequent to pear trees that it is also known as pear blight. Fire blight wreaks havoc on a growing tree, spreading quickly when the weather is warm and humid. Fire blight is a bacteria, so called because the affected blossoms, branches and twigs turn black and resemble burned trees. The bacteria is hard to eradicate as it can be carried by insects and spread by falling rain. The bacteria also stays on tree in cankers. Trees can be easily contaminated by items such as pruning equipment previously used on infected trees.

The usual treatment for fire blight is to prune affected areas as soon as they are spotted. Trees can also be sprayed with a variety of solutions and antibiotics are also applied to the trees.

The coding moth is another natural enemy of common pear trees but the moth, as well as slugs, stink bugs, scale insects lygus bugs, midges and aphids, affect the fruit more than the wood.

Nine states grow pears commercially with California, Washington and Oregon leading in fruit production. New York and Ontario, Canada are also significant pear growing areas. Other important growth states are Michigan, Colorado, Utah, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Pears grown commercially in the United States account for some 30 million bushels per year.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Kaiser, Jo-Ann
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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