"wit peer" (Afrikaans)
An evergreen, the white pear can grow with a long straight trunk to over 20 meters in forest conditions; rocky and exposed sites result in small, gnarled and compact specimens. Easily adapted, it is found from the Cape Province to Kwazulu Natal and up to Ethiopia in the north. Its white, sweetly scented flowers are borne in profusion from Sept to April and they are insect pollinated. The fruit, an asymmetrical, black drupe with a red, fleshy appendage, follow from Dec to June. Some literature states that the fruit is not edible, others say it is enjoyed when ripe by various bird species (observations at Platbos will in time iron out the confusion!)The bark is a pale gray when young and is often covered by lichens which colour it white and orange. Older branches and stems may be a darker gray with transverse ridges.
The timber of the white pear has been prized since the first days of colonization for its strong, elastic qualities. It was much sought after by wagon builders and as a result most of the country´s finest trees were logged out. It is a valued wood for furniture making and has also been used for flooring, veneering, paneling, rifle stocks and engraving for printing.
The root bark is used to treat intestinal parasites and the leaves are a remedy for ear infections. The Dept of Biology at the University of Natal has also identified compounds found in the leaves of the white pear as a potential molluscicide for the snails involved in the lifecycle of bilharziasis.
The white pear makes up about 3 to 9% of the tree population of the Knysna forest and it is now a protected tree in South Africa. They make beautiful specimen, shade trees and they also prune well so can be grown as dense, screening hedges. The roots are non-invasive and they are relatively fast growing (700 mm per year with the right conditions).