The Medlar is a small tree, native of Iran, Asia
Minor, and Greece, but which is generally held
to occur in England and the Channel Islands only
as an escape from cultivation. The theory is that
the tree was introduced at some date prior to
1596 – when we have record of its being
in cultivation here – and that the Medlar
trees growing in the hedges of south and middle
England are from seeds of these cultivated trees,
which have been sown by birds, or more probably
mammals who have eaten the fruit. The fact that
it is not found in woods is taken as evidence
that it is non-indigenous. Such evidence is not
the most convincing, but it is the best available.
It should be noted, however, that the agents credited
with its distribution along our hedgerows have
free access to the woods, and that if these places
were favourable to the growth of the Medlar, we
should probably find it there, whether indigenous
or not. Much more conclusive is its restricted
distribution abroad, as already indicated. One
would not expect to find a tree whose nearest
home is Greece, leaping over the whole of Europe
and appearing as a native of Britain.
In its wild condition the Medlar is a much-branched
and spiny tree, from ten to twenty feet high,
in these respects resembling the Hawthorn; but,
like the Pear, it puts off its defences when cultivated.
Its leaves are large and undivided, of an oblong-lance
shape, downy beneath, and sometimes with the edges
very finely toothed.
The solitary white or pale pink flowers are about
one and a half inches across, with a woolly calyx,
whose five tips expand into leafy growths. They
appear in May or June, and are succeeded by brown
fruits, about an inch across, which may be described
as round, with a depressed top, which is ornamented
with the remains of the calyx-lobes. They ripen
in October or November.