Santa Barbara Beautiful Tree of the Month – February 2022
The Evergreen Pear creates a remarkable display of blossoms in mid-winter, when many other trees are dormant and quite bare. Ushering in the first hint of spring, this lovely tree will be completely covered by its white flowers. Afterwards, it will mimic a snowy winter, as its flower petals fall – gracefully as snowflakes – to cover the ground in blowing drifts. In summer and fall, its shining leaves will provide cooling shade over a broad area. Truly a tree for all seasons!
In late January to February, delicate flowers (¾-inch in diameter) appear in large clusters that are attached to the branches on short, terminal branchlets. Bees and butterflies love the nectar and pollen feast. After pollination, the flowers produce small (1-inch) round, though seldom-seen, bronze-colored fruits; these are inedible for humans – consequently, Evergreen Pear is considered an “ornamental” pear tree. Fortunately, birds do find the fruits delicious.
In the summer, when not in bloom, the tree is still attractive, because it fills its dense canopy with glossy, yellow-green, leathery, ovate leaves (3-inches long and 2-inches wide), bearing wavy, finely serrated margins, and a pointed tip. In the fall, it develops its prized and colorful foliage display; the leaves will turn fiery red, mixed with bright yellow and orange. Technically, it is not an “evergreen” tree; it is semi-deciduous – and may drop all leaves after a freeze.
Evergreen Pear is a small- to medium-sized tree that, under ideal conditions, can grow to 30-feet in height with an equal spread. However, it is usually maintained in a smaller size, because it can easily be shaped to serve as an ideal courtyard or patio tree. In any size, its naturally irregular growth habit does require early pruning in order to give the tree an upright form and symmetrical crown. Be careful not to over-prune or to thin the canopy too much.
A mature tree is distinguished from younger ones by its deeply furrowed, dark brown to gray bark, which is arranged in a blocked pattern.
The Evergreen Pear is native to temperate areas in China and Taiwan. Its botanical name is Pyrus kawakamii. The genus name, Pyrus, is from the Latin word “pirus”, meaning “pear tree”, which was derived from the Greek word “pir”, meaning the element fire. The specific epithet, kawakamii, was given by the botanist Bunzo Hayata (1874-1934) to honor his fellow Japanese botanist, Takija Kawakami (1871-1915), who was the National Botanist for Formosa (now Taiwan). It is in the Rosaceae (Rose) family.
For a long time, Evergreen Pear was considered rare in our area. In the 1940s, only one was noted in the local horticultural literature – a single tree that stood on the grounds of Westmont College. In the 1960s, Evergreen Pear began to be generally available commercially; since then, it has been used extensively here both as a street tree and as a landscape tree.
Evergreen Pear should be planted in full sun. It grows best in well-drained sandy loam but seems to tolerate clay soil and rocky conditions. When mature and fully established, it is relatively drought-tolerant – but does better with additional irrigation, especially in dry years. Evergreen Pears are propagated asexually, usually by grafting, to produce trees that are genetically identical.
Like other members of the Rose family, Evergreen Pear is relatively pest-free but is susceptible to two leaf diseases: Fire Blight; and, Fungal Leaf Spot. Fire Blight is a bacterial disease that causes the ends of twigs to appear as if they had been badly scorched by fire; it can be controlled, reasonably well, just by pruning out affected twigs. Fungal Leaf Spot, rarely a big problem, can be controlled with copper-based fungicides that, surprisingly, also help control Fire Blight. Aphids and whiteflies can be attracted to Evergreen Pear; both can result in sooty mold on the foliage. Slow-release fertilizer applied in the spring is helpful in maintaining healthy new growth.
The Evergreen Pear’s beautiful year-round displays of flowers and foliage, its fine ability to adapt to a wide variety of soils, and its low-water requirement, make it a popular tree in Santa Barbara. Though native to China and Taiwan, it seems to be quite happy here in our Mediterranean climate – and we are happy to plant and enjoy it!
Evergreen Pear trees can be spotted all around town, especially when they are in bloom. The largest street plantings are on the 800 to 1800 blocks of Garden Street and on the 900 to 1300 blocks of East Gutierrez Street. They can also be seen on Ferrara Way and Palermo Drive (in Hidden Valley), on Barranca Way (on the Mesa), and on Eileen Way and Lincolnwood Drive (in San Roque).
Tree-of-the-Month articles are sponsored by Santa Barbara Beautiful, whose many missions include the increase of public awareness and appreciation of Santa Barbara’s many outstanding trees and, in a long-time partnership with the City Parks & Recreation Department, the funding and planting of trees along the City’s streets.
Those who wish to honor a special someone can do so with an attractive commemorative marker that will be installed at the base of an existing street tree in the City of Santa Barbara. Because Santa Barbara Beautiful has participated in the planting to date of over 13,000 street trees, there are plenty of trees from which to choose! Application forms are available on the Santa Barbara Beautiful website, www.sbbeautiful.org.
Article and photos by David Gress