Medlars: The French Alternative
The medlar is an ancient fruit tree thought to have originated in the Middle East centuries ago. It was probably introduced to much of Europe by the Romans, and was a great favourite at the dinner table in Medieval England. The plant was once known as the “open arse tree” because the fruits were said to resemble that part of the anatomy! They must be “bletted” or left until half rotten to break down the acids and tannins before they can be eaten. If you don’t mind the gritty, mushy texture you’ll find that the flavour is excellent. Jackie French recommends eating medlars with a glass of vintage port, but cautions against adding them to the kids’ lunch boxes.
Common name: Medlar
Botanical name: Mespilus germanica
Description: A tough, slow growing deciduous tree to about 6 metres (20′) tall. Both the trunk and branches are often contorted, with a few sharp thorns. Large, solitary white scentless flowers appear from October to mid November, followed by brown fruit with a distinctive hollow apex surrounded by calyx lobes. Leaves take on hues of russet, orange, yellow and brown before falling in autumn.
Best climate: Medlars do well in cool moist climates, but adapt to dryer conditions if adequate water is provided when the plant is young.
Good points: interesting contorted form attractive white spring blossoms good autumn colour tasty fruit
Downside: fruit is an offputting brown colour fruit must be “bletted” (half rotten) before it can be eaten
Care: Medlars are easy to grow. They prefer a well drained soil, although they will grow in a wide range of soils. A position in full sun is best. Once established they can withstand a fair amount of heat and drought. Trees planted from 200mm (8″) pots will take about three years to fruit.
Getting started: Trees are sold bare rooted in autumn and in pots all year round. If you have difficulty finding a medlar, ask your local nursery to order one in for you. Prices are around $20-$25 for plants in 200mm (8″) pots.
Medlars are available from:
NSW Bundanoon Village Nursery, Bundanoon (02) 4883 6303 Wayne’s Home & Garden Centre, Richmond (020 4571 2036 Welby Garden Centre, Welby (02) 4872 1244
VIC Colchester Nursery, Kilsyth (03) 9761 5111 The Wishing Well Nursery, Monbulk (03) 9756 6107 Poyntons Nursery & Garden Centre, Essendon (03) 9337 8111
SA McLaren Vale Garden Centre, McLaren Vale (08) 8323 8440
TAS Allan’s Garden Centre, Prospect (03) 6344 6257