Good Fruit Grower

September 2012

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Pears A plethora of PEARS F our pear cultivars—Bartlett, d'Anjou, Bosc, and Comice— dominate supermarket shelves across the United States, and they're great pears. But do they deserve 95 percent of the market? "There are easily more than a hundred varieties with fruit quality as good as or better than those in the commercial market," says Joseph Postman. As the curator of the National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon, he's in a position to know. "I have the rare opportunity to evaluate and sample more than a Repository's mission is to collect, conserve, characterize, and distribute. by Richard Lehnert thousand different edible pear varieties," he said. The collection includes about 800 varieties of European pears and another 100 to 150 of Asian pears, situated on eight acres, and another five-plus acres devoted to wild pear species gathered from all over the world. The repository opened in 1981, following acts of Congress that added gene banks for clonally propagated crops to the Agricultural Research Service's National Plant Germplasm System. There are now about 30 USDA germplasm conservation facilities to assure the survival of diverse populations of grains, oil seeds, vegetables, and fruit that otherwise might be lost by the wayside as growers concentrate on production of fewer varieties. The banks are also collection points for wild relatives of domestic cultivars. Sometimes, private breeding programs, or breeding programs at universities, are discontinued, and some of that plant material finds its way into the bank. Postman has been at the Corvallis repository from day one. He came to the repository as a plant pathologist and technician doing virus index- ing and plant cleanup when the repository was first operated jointly with Oregon State University. In 1987, Postman, along with the rest of the repository's employees, shifted to the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. Gene banks are often referred to in doomsday terms. It sounds dire when people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett invest millions of their dollars to store plant seeds and shoots inside a vault carved out of a frozen mountain on an island in Norway. If an asteroid hits the earth, whoever survives will have the resources to start over. That's the idea. A library for living plants For Postman, it's a lot less exotic than that. As curator, he says, "I'm a librarian in charge of a living plant collection." Not only does he have the trees growing as single-tree specimens, he has them described and organized, library fashion, on the repository's Three pears that Joseph Postman ranks as choice are Devoe (top), Russet Bartlett (middle), and Rousselet of Stuttgart x Dr. Jules Guyot VII (bottom). Devoe has a creamy flavor hinting of vanilla, Russet Bartlett is somewhat more spicy and less prone to blemishes than Bartlett, and Rousselet is an attractive, rainbow trout-colored cross that came from Russia in 1968. Trees in the repository receive minimal sprays because the fruit is not harvested. 18 SEPTEMBER 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER

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