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The Pear

The Whitty Pear

On the first day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.

The religious symbolism for the twelve days of Christmas is:

  1. True Love is a reference to God
  2. Two turtle Doves is a reference to the Old and New Testaments
  3. Three French Hens is a reference to Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
  4. Four calling Birds is a reference to the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
  5. Five golden Rings is a reference to the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
  6. six geese A-laying is a reference to the six days of creation
  7. Seven swans A-swimming is a reference to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
  8. Eight maids A-milking is a reference to the eight beatitudes
  9. Nine ladies Dancing is a reference to the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
  10. Ten lords A-leaping is a reference to the ten commandments
  11. Eleven pipers Piping is a reference to the eleven faithful apostles
  12. Twelve drummers Drumming is a reference to the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed
The Genus Pyrus, the Pear, consists of about 20 species of small to medium sized trees indigenous to Eurasia and Northern Africa. The Romans knew 39 varieties; today there are over three thousand. They are deep-rooted and deciduous or semi-evergreen and are members of the rose family (rosacea) and so the flowers have five petals. The white to pinkish-white flowers appear in April and are bisexual.

As far as eating pears goes, you may find, as we do, that Conference pears are not the best choice. They always seem to begin to rot in the middle before they are ripe. There are plenty of other varieties to choose from.

The close-grained wood is used in musical instrument making, cutlery and wood turning.

The Pear in Natural Healing

The soft fruit is useful in convalescence and is rich in vitamins, especially A, B and C, and in trace elements and minerals such as iron, magnesium and calcium. If you are "dark under the eyes" from late nights and riotous indulgence but are otherwise healthy, you are probably lacking potassium. Pears are a good source of potassium as are bananas. In traditional Chinese medicine pears are cool, sour and sweet and they stimulate the liver and stomach meridians. Pears tone Yin and regulate the heart. They are beneficial in treating chesty coughs and urinary and digestive problems. In Ayurveda, they are astringent, cooling and sweet they increase Vata and reduce pitta and kapha.

Culpeper's advice mostly relates to the pear's effect on the digestive system and he says that"all the sweet and luscious sorts ... help to move the belly downwards, more or less" while "those that are hard and sour do the contrary".

Schola Salerni advises to "drink much wine after pears, or else (they say) they are as bad as poison".

The Pear in Mythology and Folklore

In ancient Greece the pear was sacred to Hera, wife of Zeus and goddess of marriage and childbirth. The pear, like the apple, has always had a strong connection with children, fertility and prosperity but whereas the apple has strong male-female connotations relating to courtship and marriage, the pear is usually associated exclusively with the female gender. There is an ancient custom in many parts of the world of planting a pear tree after a child is born and in the Swiss canton of Aargau, people used to plant a pear tree for a girl and an apple for a boy.

The Whitty Pear

Aka the Sorb tree and the True Service tree and for many years the oldest known specimen of Sorbus Domesticus, the Whitty Pear was known to the locals as the Quicken Pear Tree. The locals took parts of the bark to hang round their necks as a charm to cure sore throats. Growing alone in a remote part of Wyre Forest, it was described in 1678 by Pitt as "a tree not noticed by any preceding writer as being native to Britain." Nash described it in 1781 as being in a part of the forest owned by Baldwyn. By 1831 it was described as being very old and in an advanced state of decay.

Finally in 1862 it was burnt down by a disgruntled poacher seeking revenge on a tree-loving magistrate. Seedlings were grown from the tree and in 1916 a replacement was planted as close as possible to the original spot. The tree is currently in a healthy condition.

In 1983 Marc Hampton, a botanist, discovered similar trees growing on a Glamorgan cliff. These were originally assumed to be imported specimens but ring counting showed that they were extremely slow growing and about 400 years old. The conclusion is that the species is marginal but native and has now declined to only a few surviving examples.

Acknowledgements and further reading:

Tree Yoga - a WorkbookSatya Singh and Fred HagenederEarthdancer
The Heritage Trees of Britain and Northern IrelandJon Stokes and Donald RodgerConstable
The Oxford Companion to English LiteratureSir Paul HarveyOUP
The Observer's Book of TreesFrederick Warne & Co. Ltd.
The Green Man Tree OracleJohn Matthews & Will WorthingtonBarnes & Noble
The Meaning of TreesFred HagenaderChronicle Books
The Complete HerbalThomas CulpeperGreenwich Editions

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Ken James 2008