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My cherimoya, shortly before it became smoothie fodder.

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March 8, 2005

America's Oldest Fruit Tree

Like many woody perennials, fruit trees can live essentially forever if they're sufficiently lucky. Over the course of years, though, diseases kill trees, storms knock them over, people cut them down, and lightning strikes. The actual odds of a fruit tree surviving for a hundred plus years is pretty small (the original tree of Newtown Pippin, possibly the first truly "American" apple cultivar, died in 1805 from over-harvesting of cuttings for propagation!). Those that make it through a couple hundred years are usually pretty ugly by the end.

The original trees of a number of apple cultivars lasted a very long time: the Ribston Pippin, a popular British apple from the Victorian era, originated from a french apple seed planted at Ribston Hall in Yorkshire in about 1700. The original tree was blown down in a storm in 1810, but was propped up and continued to bear fruit until 1835. A shoot from the base of this tree eventually became a replacement trunk, and this bore fruit until another storm blew it down in 1928, which was apparently the end of the venerable tree.

The original tree of another British apple, the Bramley cooking apple, still stands in Nottinghamshire today. Planted sometime between 1809 and 1815, the tree bore its first crop in 1837. By 1900 it had been neglected and fell over, but re-rooted and was eventually restored to health.

Americans have had their own long-lived plants as well. The original grapevine of Concord, planted around 1850, still stands by Ephraim Bull's farmhouse in Concord, Massachussetts. An apple tree planted by Peter Stuyvesant in 1647 was still fruiting when it was struck by a derailed train in 1866 (I'm guessing that was the end of the tree).

But America's oldest known fruit tree stands behind the GTE-Sylvania plant, at 139 Endicott Street in Danvers, Connecticut. It was there (or somewhere nearby...the tree may have been transplanted early in life) that Governor John Endicott planted a pear tree in about 1630. The tree has been through more than its share of trauma. Hedrick reports that by 1763 it was partially decayed, and between 1800 and 1934 it was damaged by no less than four hurricanes, sometimes nearly fatally so. In 1964 vandals nearly destroyed the tree, but it bounced back, and today it still produces fruit.

No one is quite sure what cultivar it is. It may just be a seedling of something. An 1852 account calls it 'Bon Chretien', but there doesn't appear to be any previous record of that name being applied to it. Mostly, it's just called "the Endicott Pear", or just 'Endicott'. It comes true from the roots, so it doesn't appear to be grafted.

Hedrick was less than impressed with the fruit quality. It's medium sized, unattractive, and coarse in texture. Still, the genotype may have some value to breeders simply by virtue of its longevity.

There are a few web sites dedicated to the Endicott pear: The USDA has a small page, and the Danvers Senior Oracle has a much longer page on the history of the tree.

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At 5/30/2005 03:43:00 AM, Blogger Megan Lynch said...

Howdy. Just found your blog while Googling for fruit history and biogeography. I just joined the California Rare Fruit Growers this year and it's nice to discover this new source of information on fruit. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!

At 2/14/2010 01:05:00 PM, Blogger stanleyabraham said...

Hey, I hate to be annoying, but I think the tree is actually located at that address in Danvers, Massachusetts not Connecticut... as a North Shore native my parents took me their as a child, it really is an amazing thing to go and see and not many people know about it.

At 1/15/2012 09:49:00 AM, Blogger MANHHIEU said...

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At 1/29/2015 12:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pretty cool reading material here

At 1/29/2015 12:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My name is Christopher a Zohlman and i lived right Dow. The road in Lawrence mass. This tree is deff in mass. I used to eat lunch with my foster parent that worked at sulvania and I would stare at it like it was weird or somethin. Truly breathtaking to look at.

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