In 1629, John Endecott (1588-1655) arrived in the New World to be the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was a dedicated gardener, and the very next year, he planted a small pear tree on his property in Danvers, Massachusetts.
As his kids watched him plant the sapling, which had been brought over from England, legend has it that he said, “No doubt when we have gone the tree will still be alive.” Well, that was almost 400 years ago, and the tree is still very much alive and bearing fruit to this day.
Known as North America’s oldest cultivated fruit tree, the Endicott Pear Tree has survived a lot (including a spelling change from Endecott to Endicott in the 18th century). It has lived through neglect, decay, insect attacks, and still bigger challenges, like serious hurricanes in 1804, 1815, 1843, and 1934.
Worse still, in 1964, vandals cut off all its branches and chopped the trunk down to a height of just six feet. Even so, the Endicott recovered from that savage setback.
The tree is old and tough, but it’s no longer unique. Thanks to grafting, you can cut a shoot from a woody tree, attach it to the root or trunk of a similar tree, and create a clone or relative of the original. The Endicott now has clones in 17 states, including one created in 1997 for the USDA Agricultural Research Services National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon.
(The NCGR is like a bank for plants and seeds from all over the world. The collection is so big, it includes more than 1,000 different types of pears – just pears! — from more than 50 countries. It also includes many thousands of other plants.)
So how are they, the Endicott pears themselves? Well, let’s just say that if you reach the age of 384, people won’t care too much how you look. They’ve been called “medium in size, unattractive, and coarse textured,” and, um, best for use in pies and tarts.