WILLIAMS BON CHRETIEN PEAR TREE
By David Marks
The Williams Bon Chretien pear variety is the most commonly grown European style pear in the world and that doesn’t happen by accident! Amongst its many virtues are the following:
- Good for cooking and eating
- Excellent grower in north and south UK
- Good flavour and aroma
- Heritage variety dating back to the 1700s
- Early season cropping
PARENTAGE OF WILLIAMS BON CHRETIEN
The parents of Williams Bon Chretien are not known. This pear variety is often called Williams and in the USA it is known as the Bartlett pear. There are countless sports of this variety most of which affect only the outward appearance and not the taste or texture. It dates back to 1765 when it was first discovered in Aldermaston, Berkshire. Commercially it was sold by Richard Williams of Turnham Green near Chiswick in London who formally named it Williams in 1814.
Somehow the Italians managed to create a story that the variety originated from Italy and wove a very unlikely tale around it. It involved a “good Christian” and a pope and then somewhere in the murky annals of time the words Bon Chretien (French for good Christian) was appended to the real name of Williams. Hence it became known as Williams Bon Chretien. Rest assured, it is neither Italian nor French, it most assuredly is one of the oldest English pear varieties currently grown.
The story doesn’t end there though. Wouldn’t you just guess that the Americans had to get involved and mistaken identity was key to their involvement! Williams pear trees were taken from England to, and planted in, an orchard in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The owner of the orchard then sold it to a Mr Enoch Bartlett in 1817. Mr Bartlett identified the delicious looking pears and without sufficient investigation decided to call them Bartlett pears.
In 1823, pear enthusiasts noticed that Bartlett pears were in fact exactly the same as Williams pears and the game was up, Bartlett pears ARE Williams pears. Somehow they have managed to get away with keeping the name, Bartlett, to this day.
APPEARANCE, TASTE AND CHARACTERISTICS OF WILLIAMS BON CHRETIEN
This is a rather dumpy looking pear which only slightly narrows around the neck. Larger than many pears, the skin is initially green with a few small brown speckles. When it ripens the skin turns a golden colour. The flesh is white.
Williams Bon Chretien pear (red skinned)
The taste of Williams Bon Chretien pears is, overall, sweet but there is a background hint of acidity. There is a slight musk element in the aroma. The flesh is juicy and soft when ripe. One benefit of Williams pears is that they cook very well. The majority of the world production of tinned pears are of the Williams variety.
Fruit is produced mid season (see below for average expected dates) and Williams Bon Chretien should be harvested when the pears are slightly under-ripe. See here for detailed information on when to harvest pears. This variety is no different from others, after harvest it should be stored in cool conditions after harvest and bought inside the house for a couple of days prior to eating.
Williams Bon Chretien (pollination group 3) is partially self-fertile but not to the same degree as Conference for instance To get the best crop from this pear tree you need one of the following other varieties nearby:
- Brandy (pollination group 4)
- Clapp’s Favourite (pollination group 3)
- Concorde (pollination group 3 to 4)
- Conference (pollination group 3)
- Doyenne du Comice (pollination group 4)
- Humbug (pollination group 3)
- Invincible (pollination group 2)
- Moonglow (pollination group 3)
- Sensation (pollination group 3)
- Winter Nelis (pollination group 3)
HOW TO PRUNE WILLIAMS BON CHRETIEN PEAR TREE
Most of the normal rules for pruning a pear tree apply to Williams Bon Chretien. One important point to note with this variety is that the fruits tend to turn from under-ripe to over-ripe very quickly. At the right time of year (see below) look for the very first signs of the fruits turning from green to yellow, that’s the time to harvest for storage or keeping indoors for a couple of days until fully ripe. As well as normal trees they also grow well as espaliers.
The final height and spread of a mature (seven year old) Williams Bon Chretien pear tree will depend on the rootstock used, soil and growing conditions. Averages are as follows:
- Quince C rootstock (semi-dwarfing) 2.5m to 3m (8ft to 10ft)
- Quince A rootstock (semi-dwarfing) 3m to 4m (10ft to 13ft)
- Pyrus c. rootstock (natural size) 6m to 8m (20ft to 27ft)
More information about growing pear trees including planting, feeding, watering, mulching, harvesting and pruning can be found on our page here.
The primary uses for Williams Bon Chretien pears is for eating and cooking.
PEST AND DISEASES OF WILLIAMS PEAR TREES
Williams have a poor record for pest and disease resistance with scab and fireblight being particular problem areas in the UK.
Scab not only affects the leaves of pear trees it also affects the fruit. As well as yellow and dark green spots on the underside and top of leaves you may also see groups of the spores growing as small brown velvety mounds on the underside of leaves. Go to our
dedicated scab page for treatment and prevention methods.
Leaf affected by Scab
Williams pear trees are also susceptible to fireblight. This is a bacterial infection which thrives in warmer parts of the UK and it is unlikely to be a problem in the Midlands and north.
Picture of Fireblight from Stark Bros
The symptoms of fireblight are hard to miss even at the initial stages of infection. First the blossoms are infected (not always the case with pear trees) then new shoots, fruit and finally the main branches can be affected. The key symptoms are:
- Blossoms quickly die off turning a dark brown colour
- New shoots then become infected a week or so later and they too wither and blacken although they tend to remain on the tree. Some shoots may randomly be completely unaffected
- If the weather is warm and wet the affected shoots begin to weep a sticky goo which is laden with bacteria
- Developing fruits then wither and die
- This year’s wood growth is then infected and this turns black and begins to die
- If the tree is not treated the infection then affects wood from previous years’ growth and at this stage the tree will almost certainly die.
With pear trees in particular, the infection of blossom stage can sometimes not occur, the first signs being noticed on new shoots. This is because pear blossom tends to appear a week or two earlier than on apple trees when the conditions are not yet warm enough for the bacteria to flourish.
For more information on treating fireblight, read our page dedicated to this bacterial infection.
BUYING WILLIAMS BON CHRETIEN PEAR TREES
Williams Bon Chretien is widely available to buy from garden centres as well as online fruit suppliers. In common with most other pear trees buying online from a garden centre looks to be the most expensive option although picking up a tree yourself from your local garden centre will give better prices. As far as other online websites are concerned there are large price differences as far as this variety is concerned so see our price comparison page to find out which supplier is the cheapest and which is the most expensive – prices for a single tree range from £20 to over £50.
SUMMARY CHARACTERISTICS OF THE WILLIAMS BON CHRETIEN PEAR TREE
USE: Eating and cooking
SKIN COLOUR / TEXTURE: Green / light brown turning yellow when ripe
FLESH COLOUR: White
TASTE AND TEXTURE: Sweet juicy and smooth texture
FRUIT SIZE: Large
SUITABILITY FOR FAN / ESPALIER GROWTH: Both
TREE SIZE: Average
REGULARITY OF CROPPING: Regular with good crops
POLLINATION: Flowering Group 3 (RHS classifications), self-fertile but does even better with a suitable pollination partner, see text above for suitable pollination partners.
DIPLOID / TRIPLOID? Diploid, good as a pollinator for other pear trees in flowering groups two, three and four
ROOTSTOCKS: Best in most conditions on Quince A rootstock. If soil conditions, nutrients and water supply are good it will also grow well on Quince C rootstock which will restrict its size slightly.
AWARDS: AGM from Royal Horticultural Society in 1993 and reconfirmed in 2013.
PROPAGATION: We know of no restrictions to propagating this variety of pear.
BOTANICAL NAME: Pyrus communis ‘Williams Bon Chretien’
SPECIAL FEATURES: An excellent all-rounder for eating and cooking
FLOWERING AND FRUITING TIMES: The average flowering time (optimum time for pollination) and date when fruits are ripe in the UK for the Williams Bon Chretien pear tree are set out below. If you have set your home town we can give you a more accurate estimate, if you have not set your home town (do it now by clicking here) the dates below will be the average for the UK.
Your town has not been set, the average main flowering time for Williams Bon Chretien in the UK is the last week of April. Fruit will be ready for picking in the first week of October. Click here if you want to set the dates to your home town.
Flowering and fruit picking dates vary according to the weather in any particular growing season so the above dates may well change slightly from one year to the next. The flowering date above is when the pear tree produces the maximum number of blossoms, it will also produce blossom, although less, a week or two either side of the date given.
The fruit from Williams Bon Chretien should be harvested when it is just under-ripe because they ripen best off the tree. In practice, wait till a few pears drop off the tree of their own accord and then harvest the remaining pears over a couple of weeks. They are ready for picking when they can be easily pulled off the tree. To ripen them fully, take them into the house (not on a window sill) at normal indoors temperature. They will be ready to eat after two to three days. To store longer keep them in a cool dark place such as a garage, shed or the fridge. For more details on harvesting pears click here.
COMMENTS / QUESTIONS LEFT BY OUR READERS
|Date: 09 June 2021
|QUESTION: My question is if we get 3 pear trees that are the same, 3 William Bon Chretian for example, will they pollinate each other?
ANSWER: No, two of the same variety will not pollinate each other. However, if you have a third tree of a different variety as a pollinator, it will be more than capable of pollinating the two Williams trees