Origin and Distribution
The undemanding wild fruit has almost been forgotten, but has been enjoying growing popularity with many garden owners for several years and is increasingly being planted. Most of the 25 or so species come from North America; Europe is only home to the two-meter-high rock pear. This species grows in the wild mainly on calcareous and rather dry locations and can still be found even at altitudes of up to 2000 meters. The copper rock pear (bot. Amelanchier lamarckii), on the other hand, is found much more frequently in the gardens, which is about six meters tall and also forms an umbrella-like crown. This species originally comes from the east of the North American continent, but has long been released into the wild here as well.In northern Germany, the copper rock pear is also known as the “currant tree”.
- The rock pear: which small variety to plant?
- Plant a rock pear in your own garden
- The growth of the rock pear
Rock pears are mainly to be planted as solitary plants in the garden, although some species are also very suitable for hedge planting. Thanks to the umbrella-like, yet loose growth, most varieties can also be well underplanted, which is especially good for onion flowers. On the other hand, you should refrain from planting with deeply rooted plant species, because as a shallow root, root pressure and thus the competition for water and nutrients for the rock pear is difficult to tolerate. The columnar varieties in particular fit very well in small gardens and front gardens, although some of the smaller varieties can also be used very well for a container culture.
Appearance and stature
In the garden, the North American species are more popular than the native European rock pear due to their higher decorative value. All varieties have elliptical leaves that are up to seven centimeters long and arranged alternately, which in some species show a copper to bronze color during budding. In autumn the deciduous leaves turn bright copper to orange-red depending on the location and the nature of the soil. The growth of the medium-sized to larger shrubs is always loosely upright at first, with most species developing a spreading crown with age and becoming broader overall. The strikingly thin shoots are colored olive gray. In spring - depending on the species and variety between April and May - the numerous white star blossoms appear, arranged in racemose inflorescences.They develop into blue-black, edible berries by July - which are actually apple fruits. These are reminiscent of blueberries in terms of both appearance and taste.
Between June and July, depending on the species and variety, the trees and bushes, which can be up to six meters high, hang full of small berry fruits that are up to one centimeter in size and turn blue-black when ripe. These are very popular with birds, but many people also taste very good - especially in the form of jams and jellies or in alcoholic form as a liqueur. The taste of the berries is a little reminiscent of marzipan and contains many healthy ingredients, especially vitamin C, iron and other minerals as well as flavonoids and anti-inflammatory tannins, which are so healthy for the heart and blood vessels. In northern Germany, the rock pear is also known as the “currant tree”, as people used to dry and use the fruit like raisins.
The fruits that look like berries are - like the aronia berries - actually apple fruits, as the generic name “Amelanchier” indicates. This comes from the Celtic language and translates as “little apple”. However, the fruits should only be processed when they are ripe. You can nibble them straight from the tree, but also pick them for boiling, pickling or drying. But you have to be quick because the juicy berries are also popular with our feathered friends and they plunder the bush, which is draped with ripe berries, in no time at all.
In most cases, the slightly bitter-tasting and quickly perishable fruits of the rock pear will not be eaten raw, but processed immediately after harvest. They do not last long and should therefore not be stored temporarily. You can use the rock pears:
- Process into jams and jellies
- Squeeze juice out of them
- soak in alcohol and with plenty of sugar to create liqueur
- Make compote out of it (with other types of fruit)
- dry (in a dehydrator or oven)
- freeze (well suited to avoid having to process harvested fruits immediately if there is not enough time)
Dried rock pears taste similar to raisins and can also be used in exactly the same way, for example for mueslis, cakes or desserts or just for snacking.
Today, the rock pear has almost been forgotten as a fruit bush, and many people consider the blue-black fruits when ripe to be poisonous - which, as already described, they are of course not. Only the seeds embedded in the pulp contain small amounts of cyanogenic glycosides, which can react to form hydrogen cyanide in the body. However, this only happens if you chew the seeds instead of simply swallowing them. Furthermore, the amount of hydrogen cyanide contained is so low that symptoms of poisoning are not to be expected - apple seeds contain roughly the same amount and are eaten by many people, either intentionally or unintentionally. If you still want to be on the safe side, you can simply cook delicious jam from the rock pears, because the poisonous components are destroyed by cooking.
Which location is suitable?
The natural location of the rock pear is a sunny to partially shaded place on the edge of light deciduous forests, which is why the shrubs have a medium to high light requirement in the garden. The trees thrive at their best in full sun to partially shaded locations, but they can also do well in light shade. All species are both urban climate and wind resistant and therefore do not necessarily need a sheltered place in the garden.
With regard to the soil, rock pears present themselves as quite undemanding, as they still grow well on rocky ground and neither waterlogging nor drought bother them, at least in the short term. Ordinary, loose and well-drained garden soil is therefore perfect, with the pH value in the acidic to calcareous range between four and nine. The bushes thrive best on sandy-loamy soil.
Plant rock pear properly
You can plant rock pears well in spring as well as in autumn, whereby container goods can basically be put in the ground all year round - provided the ground is not frozen or there is a summer heat wave. Before planting, you should prepare the soil well and dig it up thoroughly, loosen the crumb and upgrade it according to its composition:
- sandy soil: fold in compost
- Barren soil: Fold in compost and horn shavings (€ 6.39 at Amazon *)
- heavy, loamy soil: create drainage, fold in sand and compost
- Wet soil: create drainage, fold in sand and compost
Then place the rock pear with its root ball in a bucket filled with water so that the plant can soak up moisture. In the meantime, dig out the planting hole, which should be about twice as wide and deep as the root ball. Put the bush into the planting hole as deep as it was in the pot and then water it well. This is followed by a planting cut, if necessary, in which you shorten all side shoots slightly and cut back crossing, kinked or otherwise injured branches.
Watering and fertilizing
Rock pears are very easy to care for and also get along well on dry and nutrient-poor soils. Only freshly planted specimens should be watered in the first few weeks when it is dry, otherwise well-ingrown shrubs usually need neither water nor fertilization. You can only water young plants additionally if the dry period lasts for a very long time and / or it gets very hot. In terms of fertilization, an annual compost application in early spring is sufficient.
Cut rock pear properly
As a rule, rock pears do not have to be cut back, as they develop their picturesque umbrella crown by themselves over time. A rejuvenation cut is also not necessary, especially since the blossom and fruit set is not promoted by a targeted pruning. Avoid a radical cut, especially with older shrubs, as these will only sprout out of the old wood with difficulty and then look rather ugly for years. Simply remove diseased or dead branches that are growing too dense with pruning shears directly on the ground or at the roots. This is best done in late winter.
Propagate rock pear
While the wild species of the rock pear are preferably propagated by sowing, certain varieties (such as the large-flowered variant 'Ballerina') are preferably bred by grafting. For this you need a suitable noble rice as well as either a wild rock pear species or the strong seedling of rowan berries as a base. Rock pears refined on rowan berries often grow larger and more upright. When sowing, you should stratify the seeds beforehand, ie subject them to a cold stimulus in order to break through the inhibition of germination. For this, it is sufficient to store the seeds in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for four to six weeks.
Propagating cuttings, on the other hand, is difficult because the shoots are difficult to move to develop their own roots, even with the help of a rooting powder. If you still want to give it a try, cut young, flowerless shoots between April and May and first cultivate them in a pot with a nutrient-poor growing medium. (€ 9.05 at Amazon *)
Rock pears are absolutely hardy and do not require any additional protection during the cold season.
Diseases and pests
The wild forms of the rock pear are very robust and less susceptible to diseases and pests. Like so many rose plants, however, it is primarily the cultivated varieties that are plagued by fire blight, in which the flowers and leaves turn brown to black and fall off. The only thing that helps is a targeted pruning deep into the healthy wood. However, this disease is rarely encountered, with powdery mildew being a much more common threat. Prevent the fungal disease by not letting the crown become too dense and watering the shrub with plant strengtheners (for example, a brew made from field horsetail).
Rock pears are also very easy to care for in large containers. Put the shrubs in a humus-rich substrate mixed with sand or expanded clay and fertilize them once a year at the beginning of the growing season with a slow release fertilizer, for example blue grain. Horn shavings or horn meal are also very suitable. Every two to three years it is transferred to a larger plant pot.
Species and varieties
The rock pear (bot. Amelanchier) are botanically like apples and pears to the pome fruit family (bot. Pyrinae) counting plant genus. It comprises around 25 different species, almost all of which can be found on the North American continent, with the exception of one European species and two species that are common in Asia. The following species and their cultivars are mainly used in the garden:
Tree pear (bot.Amelanchier arborea)
In contrast to the other rock pears, the ornamental wood does not grow like a shrub, but rather as a small tree and as such reaches heights of between six and eight meters. The crown can be up to five meters wide, which is why the tree rock pear needs a solitary location with sufficient space. Amelanchier arborea increases in growth between 40 and 80 centimeters per year. The species is native to the Northwest of the US, where it grows wild on river banks and in damp forests. The slightly fragrant, star-shaped flowers hang from the branches in multi-flowered clusters from April to May. The fruits are quite small, blue-black when ripe, and serve as food for numerous birds, such as blackbirds and sparrows. We particularly recommend the vigorous cultivar 'Robin Hill', which is not yet too widespread in our country.
Broom pear (bot.Amelanchier spicata)
The species, also known as Spear Rock Pear or Spike Rock Pear, grows like a bush and is only between two to three meters high and just as wide. The frost-hardy wood is very suitable for planting in smaller gardens, in wild fruit and flower hedges and as a container plant. Amelanchier spicata forms quite a lot of root runners and therefore needs a greater distance from other plants. The fruits, which ripen in July and are a maximum of one centimeter in size, are edible and taste rather sweet.
Real rock pear (bot. Amelanchier ovalis)
The only species native to Europe is the common or common rock pear, which, after being almost forgotten, has been celebrating its comeback in the garden for several years. The medium-high shrub reaches heights of between 150 and 300 centimeters and is roughly the same width. The species initially grows tight and narrow upright, but in later years the branches hang over slightly. Depending on the location, young woody plants grow between 15 and 40 centimeters each year. The robust rock pear convinces with a sea of white flowers in spring, edible fruits in summer and a pretty leaf color in autumn.
Alder-leaved rock pear (bot. Amelanchier alnifolia)
This is the well-known Saskatoon berry, which is widely grown and marketed in Canada. The shape and size of the spherical, blue-violet fruits are reminiscent of cultivated blueberries and they also taste quite similar. However, the alder-leaved rock pear also thrives in our climate and is absolutely hardy. The species grows like a bush and can be up to four meters high and three meters wide. In addition to the lush flowers and the numerous fruits, the large shrub also convinces with a beautiful, red autumn color of its leaves. In addition to the wild form, the 'Northline' variety is also highly recommended. This becomes somewhat larger and usually grows with multiple stems. The 'Obelisk' variety, on the other hand, has a columnar, narrow growth, up to five meters high but not even two meters wide.
Bald rock pear (bot. Amelanchier laevis)
The fruits of the bald pear are just as edible as they are tasty and can be processed into all kinds of delicious things. Even if its name does not suggest it, the “bald” rock pear is densely leafy with olive-colored leaves that are initially red-brown when they shoot. In May, the mostly multi-stemmed large shrub delighted with numerous white flowers arranged in overhanging clusters. The species becomes up to five meters high and just as wide. A popular variety is 'Ballerina', which is up to six meters high and even larger and looks particularly picturesque due to its arched overhanging growth.
Copper rock pear (bot.Amelanchier lamarckii)
Probably the most common species planted in gardens is the copper rock pear, which grows as a large shrub up to six meters in height and width with multiple stems and is considered to be very robust and undemanding. The type of autumn color owes its name to it, which can range from copper to flaming red, depending on the composition of the soil and the intensity of the sun's rays. After the abundant flowering in April, numerous, relatively large blue-black berries develop. These are edible and quite tasty. Many varieties of the copper rock pear have been bred. These varieties are recommended:
- 'Princess Diana': slender, multi-stemmed bush, slightly overhanging, up to 600 centimeters in height, up to 4.5 meters in width
- 'Prince William': narrow and compact shrub, up to 250 centimeters in height, only up to two meters wide
- 'Rainbow Pillar': slender, columnar growth, height between 300 and 500 centimeters, only up to two meters wide