Giffard -A Pear for Alaska

By  Bob Purvis

Finding pear varieties suitable for Alaska  has  proven  far   more  difficult than finding suitable apple varieties. My perusal of U. P. Hedrick’s  The  Pears  of New York in 1987 turned up only a few candidates,  among  them  Beurre’ Giffard, or simply “Giffard”. This article was inspired  by  seeing  the delighted  reaction of  two commercial  pear  growers,  my wife. and several friends upon tasting a “Giffard”  pear  I brought  back  from Canada.

Nicolas Giffard, of Foussieres, France, discovered “Giffard” as a chance seedling near his home in 1825.  The  pear was named and introduced to the world  in  1840.   Hedrick  states  that while the trees are  not extraordinary, they are at  least  up to the average  pear in most characteristics; and they are well above average in both fruitfulness and hardiness. This article combines what I have read about “Giffard” with recent experience and observations.

In March  1988, I grafted  a scion of “Giffard” from the Saanichton Plant Quarantine Station. Sidney, British Columbia onto a one-year-old Pyros communis rootstock.   The  young tree grew vigorously that summer. After enduring -34°F in the winter of  1988-89. it had a few inches of winterkill on the  tips of  both shoots.   Although  growing in the shade and neglected, the tree   was still alive (barely) in April 1991 in west Anchorage. At the Agriculture Canada research station at Summerland British Columbia, is a 10-14-year-old tree of “Giffard” in the pear variety  block. After -18° F combined  with strong winds, the tree had no obvious winter injury   and a good crop of fruit as of August 7. 1991.

Doctor Darrel Bienz, professor emeritus of horticulture at Washington State University, had some additional observations  of  the hardiness of “Giffard”. He grew up on a ranch near Bear Lake, Idaho (elevation 6,300 feet). The growing season there was short. and the winters were severe. His parents had two pear trees, the only ones for miles around  that  could  survive  the  winters and ripen fruit.   Upon seeing and tasting  a “Giffard” pear from Summerland Darrel immediately recognized the fruit as identical to those he had grown up with. The growth habit and leaf shape were likewise the same, so it appears that both those trees were “Giffard”.   They survived the hot. dry summer of 1990 without irrigation, and likewise a record­ breaking -44°F in late December 1990. This spring he successfully grafted two scions from the trees onto seedling pear. They took and are now growing   well.

The shoots on “Giffard” tend to be vigorous and willowy. New growth is reddish-brown tinged with yellow. with a whitish “fuzz” on the bark near the ends. The  leaves are narrow and relatively small. with no serrations on the margins; the color is green tinged with blue. A “Giffard” I grafted to an Old Home X Farmingdale 333  rootstock in April

1989 is now a 7-foot-high  tree with  a nice scaffold of four branches, with wide crotch angles. Hedrick is silent on the subject of precocity, but the spreading growth habit and naturally wide crotch angles suggest that “Giffard” may fruit at  a  younger  age than  the typical pear.
Harold B. Tukey, in his book The Pear  and Its Culture (New York: Orange Judd Publishing Co., 1928), adds that “Giffard” is blight resistant.  The flower  buds produce showy, 1-1/4″-diameter blossoms, born singly on short spurs. Dr. Bienz’s experience suggests that the cultivar may be partially self-fertile because both his parents’ trees were identical, and  there were no other pear trees for miles around.

At  Bear Lake, the purported “Giffards” ripened between September 15 and 30. At Harrow, Ontario, “Giffard” is normally harvested August 6, versus August 30 for Clapp Favorite. At the Summerland  station, there were pears here and there on the tree that separated easily from the spur and were excellent eating as of August 7, 1991.  Clapp Favorite  was  not  then  ripe.   Tukey states  that  “Giffard”  ripens “several weeks before Clapp Favorite.” Not far from Summerland locally-grown “Yellow Transparent” apples were being sold commercially August 7. All available evidence suggests  that “Giffard” should be ready  to harvest  in  Anchorage by about September 10-20 on the average; in other words, a week after “Yellow Transparent” apples.
“Giffard” pears average 3″ long and 2-3/8″ in diameter and are broad, acute-pyriform  in shape (not round). Fruit color when ripe is a dull yellowish­ green overlaid with a dotted dull red to fiery orange-red blush on the sunward side. The flesh is high quality; juicy, sweet, aromatic, with a hint of  wine in the flavor. Texture is crisp, tender, and fine-grained; the pears I ate had no grit cells. The fruit appears to be more bruise-resistant than Clapp Favorite, and the cores are very small.   Fruit  scientist

Norman F. Childers, in his book The Pear. recommends “Giffard” as well-suited for fresh market roadside sales in eastern Canada.   Furthermore,  the fruit is reported to be excellent canned, unlike many other summer pears. The flesh  begins to soften rather rapidly once the fruit is fully ripe, but if picked slightly immature, the fruit will keep better (at  least one month) in refrigeration  than most summer pears.


In terms of availability, “Giffard” is sold  on semi-dwarfing  rootstocks (OH X F.333) by the Sonoma Antique Apple Nursery (4395 Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA   95448) and by Southmeadow Fruit Gardens (Lakeside, MI   49116), which dwarfs its “Giffards”  on Angers Quince. The latter also offers “Giffard” on seedling rootstocks. Whitney’s Orchard and Nursery (please make contact through me) has eight healthy trees of “Giffard” on seedling pear (Pyros communis) available for 1992.* Next to “Summercrisp”, it now appears that of all European pears. “Giffard” may be one of the best adapted to Alaskan growing conditions south of the Alaska Range. As such. it is worthy  of  trial.