Search is on for second oldest pear tree

Buks Nel with a winter saffron pear tree.

South Africa’s old-fruit super sleuths, Buks Nel and Henk Griessel, are on the search for the country’s second-oldest pear tree, believed to be somewhere along the Liesbeeck River.

The two are working on their third book about South Africa’s ancient pears.

Mr Griessel and Mr Nel from Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, co-authored Apples in the Early Days at the Cape, a book about apple varieties older than 100 years and no longer in commercial production, as well as The Newcomers and Their Friends, a book about the current and future apple varieties.

Now these passionate fruit experts are working on their third book, which will unpack the stories behind South African pears.

“We know about the oldest pear tree, The winter saffron (Pyrus communis), which is still alive in The Company’s Garden and is over 370-years old. We are now looking for the second-oldest pear tree, and we suspect it will be somewhere near the Liesbeeck River in modern-day Bishopscourt or Newlands,” said Mr Griessel.

The Liesbeeck emerges from the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden to wind through The Vineyard Hotel, past Alma Road, Rosebank and Mowbray towards Observatory where it joins the Black River and eventually empties into Table Bay, Mr Griessel explained.

For now, their focus is on the Western Cape but they will soon be expanding the search to the rest of South Africa.

Mr Nel said: “If there is a mature, large pear tree in your garden, it might very well be what they are looking for. Size would be the biggest indication of age.”

The first pear trees at the Cape were described by a visiting pastor, Valetijn, who visited The Company’s Garden in 1685 and 1714. In 1853, the trees were again described to be about 150 years old from a description of a Russian visitor to the Cape who said he saw a circle of huge pear trees growing in the middle of The Company’s Garden.

Mr Nel said it was reported that in 1910, a large pear tree with wisteria growing onto it fell down, and the wisteria was subsequently trained onto a pergola. Near to this, was a remaining pear tree, which once probably formed part of the circle of pear trees described earlier. This is the tree which grows in the garden to this day, and the wisteria still grows on the adjacent pergola.

Mr Griessel is a quality manager at Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, while Mr Nel, is a fruit industry veteran who discovered the Bigbucks tree, the fruit of which is marketed as Flash Gala – a full wine-red Gala apple. Mr Nel is Tru-Cape’s new-varieties specialist, but he is also passionate about ancient varieties.

If you do have an old pear tree in the garden get in touch with Mr Griessel at henkg@tru-cape.co.za or to send photos on WhatsApp to 082 652 1828.

“If we manage to find such a tree in your garden, we will ask to take a small clipping from it from which we can grow a new tree with the same genetics,” Mr Griessel said.