DANVERS — After failing to producing a single pear last year, the Endecott pear tree, the oldest living cultivated fruit tree in the United States, bore a bumper crop this fall.
Yesterday, arborists Richard Grant and Pamela Trentini and employees from the Mass General/North Shore Center for Outpatient Care plucked fruit from limbs or picked ripe pears off the ground.
At more than 380 years old, the tree is considered a living link to the first governor of Massachusetts and some of the area’s earliest European settlers.
“I am a horticulturalist and an arborist, so I certainly enjoy the organic, live freshness of having fruit still coming from this old tree,” said Trentini, who works with Grant for Mayer Tree Service of Essex.
The first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Endecott, is said to have planted it personally in the early 1630s. It’s the last tree from Endecott’s large orchard of apple and pear trees, says town archivist Richard Trask. It mostly likely came over from England as a shoot before being planted in Danvers.
“It has a good history to it. From the time of the Colonial era, they were talking about it, which was unique,” Trask said.
It has been mentioned by President John Adams and by poets John Greenleaf Whittier and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
The tree, now about 20 feet tall, has survived hurricanes, vandalism (all of its limbs were cut off in 1964, but they grew back) and the taking of soil from the land, Trask said.
Danvers Historical Society President Wayne Eisenhauer described the pears from the tree as “small and “hard as a rock.”
“They used them for preserves and things,” Eisenhauer said. “I don’t know what they tasted like 300 years ago.”
The property, along with the historic tree, was acquired from Osram Sylvania by Mass General before the health care facility broke ground in 2007.
The tree is not easy to find. It sits down an embankment in back of Osram’s parking lot. It’s protected on three sides by large yews and surrounded by a tall, black metal fence.
“We are stewards of the land,” said Elena Sierra, the administrator of Mass General/North Shore Center for Outpatient Care at 104 Endicott St. “So, when we bought the land here and opened in 2009, we ... became stewards of the tree.”
Sierra works with the Danvers Historical Society and the Essex National Heritage Commission to preserve the tree. Sierra does not allow unlimited public access, because the tree needs to be protected and sits on private property off a parking lot for two bustling facilities.
“We work to provide access that makes sense to the community for events,” Sierra said. “It’s private property, so we don’t have unlimited access, because, as you can see, the tree is doing super well in its protective little enclave here. So, we don’t want to expose it to risk. It’s sort of a tricky balance; how do you promote a really important resource like this and historical tie, and then safeguard it and keep it well.”
Sierra plans to send pears to the Danvers Historical Society, town hall, Essex National Heritage, and the presidents of Mass General and North Shore Medical Center, among others. One of her physicians makes pear butter. Sierra’s husband, Claudio, is a chef who makes an infusion using the pears. She also gives some to Osram employees.
As far as the tree goes, the Endecott-Endicott Family Association has produced scions of the pear tree, one of which is growing at the medical center’s healing garden. The Danvers Historical Society’s Glen Magna Farms on Ingersoll Street and the Rebecca Nurse Homestead on Pine Street also have some young Endecott pear trees growing on their properties.
Sierra said the young pear tree in the healing garden is “an insurance policy” in case something happens to the old tree.
“The arborists don’t know why she is still alive and thriving,” Sierra said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.