a good thing that I'm generally a patient person. If I had cut down our fourteen-year-old shipova tree in a fit of frustration, I would never have had the pleasure of savoring its luscious fruit. At age 15 it finally rewarded my patience with its first blossoms, followed by a modest harvest of this most unusual and interesting fruit.

Shipovas have been around since at least the 17th Century. Various documents in European countries testify to that fact, the earliest citation coming from the Alsace region in France in 1610. Shipovas didn't arrive in the U.S. until 1959, when shipova trees were imported from Yugoslavia. The country of origin is sometimes erroneously cited as Russia, perhaps because it has a city called Shipova. Imports in later years came primarily from a specimen growing on the grounds of the Paris Museum of Natural History. With the advent of modern genetics, these were shown to be genetically identical to the Yugoslavian shipova.

So you don't want to wait ten to fifteen years for your Shipova to bloom and bear fruit?


At the Arnold Arboretum one spring many years ago, Dr. Karl Sax gave a successful demon-stration of a procedure he called "Bark Inversion." He cut a three-inch-high band below the first branches around the entire trunk of an apple tree that was three years old. Then he cut a vertical slit in the band and deftly peeled the band of bark from the wood, along with as much of the cambium as possible, completely girdling the tree. Next, he scraped any remaining cambium from the exposed wood. Then he "grafted" the band back on, but UPSIDE DOWN (hence the name, "bark inversion"). This prevents the
sap from descending normally to the roots. As a consequence,the roots don't get enough nourishment, and the tree's growth is slowed. Much of the sap accumulates in the top of the tree. This accumulation causes earlier bearing and larger fruits. The tree, which would normally start producing fruit in its eighth year, started producing in its fourth.

A second consequence of bark inversion is a dwarfing effect, since it causes the tree to grow more slowly. If permanent dwarfing is desired, the bark inversion treatment must be repeated several times in succeeding years.

Aside from having very tasty fruit, the shipova is also somewhat of a botanical rarity: It's an intergeneric hybrid. Such hybrids are rarely-seen crosses between two different genera, in this case Sorbus and Pyrus. The specific varieties are thought to be Pyrus communis, the Common European Pear, and Sorbus aria, the Whitebeam. Because mountain ashes are also in the Sorbus family, they are sometimes erroneously cited as one of the parents.

Along its way to the U.S., the shipova picked up an amazing number of botanical names. They include Pyrus tomentosa, Bollwilleria auricularis, Azarolus pollvilleriana, and Sorbus bollwylleriana. The preferred botanical moniker today is xSorbus auricularis. Common names other than ‘Shipova' include ‘Bollywyller Pear' and ‘Smokvarka.'

Shipova fruit is small, (about two inches in diameter) and somewhat flattened (much like Asian pears). Its skin color is a blending of golden yellow, light brown, and a reddish blush on the side of the fruit exposed to direct sun. The flesh is semisolid, buttery, sweet, and fragrant.

Seeds are often infertile and sometimes completely absent, a result of the fact that the Yugoslavian Shipova is a triploid with two sets of the pear chromosomes and one set of Whitebeam chromosomes. It's somewhat self-fertile, but generally produces larger crops when planted alongside pear trees that bloom at the same time. The specimen in our orchard grows next to a Bartlett Pear and not far from a Korean Mountain Ash (Sorbus alnifolia). Cross-pollination with the ash is doubtful, as it tends to bloom just a tad later than the shipova.

The one fly in the ointment is that, as I alluded to above, shipovas are notorious for not blooming or bearing fruit until they are at least ten years old. Ours waited an additional five years, but now blooms reliably and, with its now-generous yields, has more than made up for its initial stinginess.

Hardy in zones 3 to 9, a mature shipova can reach a height of 15 to 20 feet. Unlike most pear trees, it's habit is pyramidal and open and requires little or no pruning. Leaves are silvery-green in color and are simple--as opposed to compound--and are covered on the underside with a silver, downy felt. It‘s scab-resistant and generally not bothered by insects or disease as pears sometimes are (a real plus since my wife and I garden organically).

The ¾-inch wide flowers appear in clusters on short, stubby spurs and on shorter branches less than a foot long. Petals are white, but the stamens in the center of the flower are rose-colored. The sepals that hold the petals in place are covered with the same silvery-white down as the undersides of the leaves.

If you have the room, the inclination, and the patience to acquire and grow a shipova, I strongly encourage you to do so. The fruit is definitely worth waiting for. Since shipovas are not well known, and never have been, sources for purchasing a tree are limited. Here are the only U.S. sources I've been able to identify: Raintree Nursery (where we purchased our tree), One Green World, and Jung Seed and Nursery. Happy growing!

6-8 shipovas per pint
1 cup water per ping
1/4 cup sugar per pint
2 teaspoons red hot candies per pint

Wash shipovas. If peeled, treat with water and lemon juice to prevent browning. Make light syrup by mixing together the water and sugar. Bring to a boil. Drain shipovas and cook

Canned Cinnamon Shipovas

in syrup for 5 to 6 minutes or until hot throughout. Pack hot shipovas into hot, sterilized jars. Add red hot candies. Ladle hot syrup over shipovas and candies, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Remove air bubbles. Screw on caps and process 20 minutes for pint jars (25 minutes for quart jars) in boiling water canner.

Thumbnail photo courtesy of U.S. Agricultural Research Service

© Larry Rettig 2008