Pome fruit trees range from well-known favorites to obscure and forgotten types, but all share similar traits.
All pome fruits share a defining trait: a tough, membranous core filled with small, leathery seeds. The core is surrounded by edible flesh, which ranges in texture from crisp and sweet to smooth and almost custardlike. Pome fruit trees such as apples (Malus spp.) and pears (Pyrus spp.) are among the most common fruit trees grown in home gardens while other pome-producing trees are lesser known even to experienced gardeners.
Few pome fruit trees are more ubiquitous than apples. They are widely cultivated within U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, where their fruits ripen from late summer into autumn.
Cultivars such as ‘Granny Smith’ (Malus domestica ‘Granny Smith’) are common in home gardens. 'Granny Smith' is grown for its tart, long-lasting fruits. It needs a cross-pollinator to bear fruits but is a reliable pome tree that is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9.
Heirloom apple varieties such as ‘Orleans Antique’ (Malus domestica ‘Orleans Antique,’ USDA zones 4 through 8) are less common than many modern varieties, but many gardeners prize them for their fragrant fruits. 'Orleans Antique' fruits ripen in the middle of the apple fruit season.
A close apple tree relative and fellow pome fruit tree is the ‘Whitney’ crabapple (Malus pumila ‘Whitney,' USDA zones 3 through 9), a crabapple grown for its sweet, golf ball-size fruits. Unlike 'Granny Smith' and 'Orleans Antique,' the 'Whitney' crabapple is self-fertile, not requiring another tree for cross-pollination to produce fruits.
The term "pome" is derived from the Latin word for apple, pomum.
The European pear tree (Pyrus communis) and Asian pear tree (Pyrus pyrifolia) both produce pome fruits. The trees share similar traits but also possess several key differences.
European pear fruits have the classic, pearlike, or pyriform, shape people associate with pear fruits. The fruits are ripened off the tree after they reach a mature size with mature coloration. The European pear tree is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8, making it slightly more cold-hardy than the Asian pear tree. The European pear tree is considered invasive in some U.S. locations; remove unwanted seedlings and fallen fruits to prevent that problem.
Common European pear cultivars such as ‘Bartlett’ (Pyrus communis ‘Bartlett’) and ‘Seckel’ (Pyrus communis ‘Seckel’) are both hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8. They are prized for their sweet, fine-grained fruits, which, like other pome fruits, have a seedy core.
Hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9, the Asian pear does not tolerate cold. Its varieties are divided into two distinct types -- Chinese pear and Japanese pear -- based on the shape of their fruits. Chinese pear fruits have a shape similar to European pear fruits, and Japanese pear fruits are rounded like apple tree fruits. Both types of fruits ripen directly on their tree and are noted for their crisp, juicy flesh.
‘Hosui’ pear tree (Pyrus pyrifolia ‘Hosui,’ USDA zones 5 through 9) has tangy fruits that are ready for harvest in mid-season. This Japanese variety produces fruits with a rounded shape and smooth, golden-yellow skin. ‘Hosui’ resists fire blight and heat but falters in cold weather.
Chinese pear types such as ‘Ya Li’ (Pyrus pyrifolia ‘Ya Li’) produce pear-shaped fruits with smooth, yellow-green skin. 'Ya Li' is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 10, where its fruits matures in mid-season.
Plant two or more compatible pear tree cultivars to ensure sufficient cross-pollination for a bountiful fruit harvest.
Lesser-Known Pome Fruits
A handful of rare or lesser-known pome fruit trees are in some home gardens. Those trees vary drastically in appearance and hardiness, but all their fruits share the same basic structure characteristic of pomes.
The quince tree (Cydonia oblonga) is rare in home gardens, although it can be grown as an ornamental specimen and is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9. Its large, intensely fragrant fruits cannot be eaten fresh, but the fruits' pectin-rich flesh is used in preserves and jellies. Cultivated quince varieties such as ‘Orange’ (Cydonia oblonga ‘Orange,’ USDA zones 5 through 8) sometimes are available in plant nurseries. They are grown for their showy fruits as well as their fragrant blossoms.
Medlar (Mespilus germanica) has dwindled in popularity compared to other pome fruit trees. It is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8, where it produces an abundance of brown, 1-inch-diameter fruits in late summer. The fruits must be left on the tree until after it loses its leaves, and light frosts may help the fruits ripen. Cool storage temperatures after harvest soften the fruits in an over-ripening technique called bletting. Bletted medlar fruits' flesh is custardlike and can be eaten with a spoon.
Heat-loving, vigorous Japanese loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a subtropical member of the pome fruit family. Hardy in USDA zones 8 through 10, it produces golden-yellow, 1- to 3-inch fruits in spring and summer. The Japanese loquat’s umbrella-shaped growth habit, evergreen foliage and fragrant blossoms give it ornamental appeal, but its fruits create a sticky mess if allowed to drop. So grow the tree away from sidewalks and decks.
Quince, medlar and Japanese loquat range from 15 to 30 feet in height, making them suitable for small yards where larger fruit trees may not fit.
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