The search is on for South Africa’s second oldest pear tree and experts reckon it could be in any Capetonian’s backyard. The search mission, inspired by an upcoming book on the country’s ancient pear trees, is led by a formidable duo, Buks Nel and Henk Griessel.
The curiosity to locate the second oldest pear tree in South Africa was sparked in the two fruit experts and authors after tracking down the first tree called the Winter Saffron (Pyrus communis). The tree, which is over 370 years old, can be found in the Company’s Garden.
“We are now looking for the second oldest pear tree and we suspect it will be somewhere near the Liesbeek River in modern-day Bishopscourt or Newlands. The Liesbeek emerges from the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, through the Vineyard Hotel, past Alma Road, Rosebank and Mowbray towards Observatory where it joins the Black River and eventually empties into Table Bay,” Nel says.
“If you have an old, established garden and you have a pear tree in it, this will very likely be what we are looking for.”
The arrival of pear trees in Mzansi
Giving a historical context of the rise of pears in Mzansi, Griessel explains that pears were mainly planted next to homesteads from the earliest days up to late 1800.
Commercial plantings were initiated by Cecil John Rhodes after bringing an American horticulturist, Harry Pickstone, in 1892 to facilitate the expansion of the fruit industry in the Cape Colony.
“The climate with its relatively mild winters and winter rainfall helped to expand the industry to employ about 200 000 people at present. The Saffron tree in the Company Garden bears hard pear-shaped fruit that is normally used in cooking,” Griessel says.
According to him there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that the people from the Bo-Kaap used the tree’s fruit up to the mid-1970s until it was enclosed. The tree now only bears a few fruit per year.
SA boasts more 17.9 million pear trees
The upcoming book, written by Nel and Griesel, tells a story of how South Africa’s pear industry – more than 365 years old – grew from a single pear tree to 17.9 million trees and more. The book is said to be both educational and thought-provoking.
The authors have a combined 85 years of experience within the deciduous fruit industry and currently form part of Tru-Cape Fruit’s marketing team.
“That brought us to ask the question: When and how was the first apples and pears planted in South Africa? All this led us to the archives where we found [dates for when] the first apples and pears were picked. That led us to study the flow of apple planting in South Africa and brought out two small books,” says Griessel.
After publishing the two books, Nel wanted to do something else and that is where the idea for a book about pears were born. In this case, rather than focusing on varieties, this book is about a specific tree.
According to Nel the second oldest pear tree could be in anyone’s garden or backyard in Cape Town. For now their focus is on the Western Cape but soon they will be expanding the search to the rest of South Africa.
Locals are in the meantime encouraged to contact Henk Griessel at firstname.lastname@example.org or send photos via WhatsApp to 082 652 1828 if they believe that the second oldest pear tree is in their garden or backyard.
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