Hidden from view, down an embankment in an unremarkable business park north of Boston stands a very, very old pear tree.
The Endicott tree may be the oldest cultivated fruit tree in North America and is protected as a national landmark.
Historians estimate it was planted more than 380 years ago in the early 1630s. For reference, the Declaration of Independence was signed about 140 years later.
My hunt for this tree, which still produces pears, was exciting. I suppose I should have celebrated when I finally located the Endicott tree, but I didn’t.
Instead, I paused, stretched out on a grassy slope facing the diminutive tree and wondered how it survived centuries of encroachment by industry and suburbs.
In the early July sun, I could see a few small pears growing under a canopy held together by support wires and steel, surrounded by an iron fence that propped and protected the historic tree.
I was surprised how it appeared caged and suspended like an upside-down marionette, cornered in by a parking lot. The setting for this tree is in stark contrast to the grand old Bartlett “dinosaur” trees from my grandfather’s orchard in Washington state.
Many of my summer childhood days were spent climbing those giants, hiding in the canopy with binoculars looking for pirates and an occasional barn cat.
Though the Endicott tree was not what I expected, it was captivating. Every crag in the bark was deep, every pear nearly identical in size and shape, and it truly was a wonder to me that it was still producing.
It’s worth noting that the tree’s stubborn survival and historic significance has earned a spot for its genetic daughters to be propagated and protected at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon.
I highly recommend anyone traveling near Danvers, Massachusetts, to seek out this tree.
Find your way past the casino, over the rivers, through the subdivisions and industrial parks to the concrete farm where it continues to grow.
I hope you find it healthy and producing another crop of pears like the one gracing our cover this month. •
– by TJ Mullinax
More information about the tree and the scion wood project
– “The Endicott Pear Tree, Still Alive in Massachusetts After Nearly 400 Years” – New England Historical Society
– “The Endicott Pear : America’s Oldest Cultivated Tree” – Landscapes Notes blog