Pear Gene Bank Hosts Field Day

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CORVALLIS, Ore. — The National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis has over 2,000 pear trees from over 56 countries, and the public can see them on Thursday.

The United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) has 30 gene banks nationwide, collecting living fruit and nut varieties. One gene bank is in Corvallis, where thousands of different types of fruit crops are maintained.

“We are responsible for maintaining germplasm collections for a number of fruit and nut crops here,” said Plant Pathologist and Curator Joseph Postman. “To collect all the genetic diversity for certain crops representing world diversity.”

The USDA also wants to minimize fruit and nut extinction.

“The mission that really drove to establish these gene banks is to preserve varieties so that we’re prepared for things like plant diseases, climate change; things like that,” Postman said. “People think of wild plants becoming extinct or being lost, but we don’t think so much about varieties of common plants being lost.”

He says only a handful of crop varieties are available at the grocery store. Postman says gardeners, scientists and nurseries are able to use pear croppings from the tree to piece together with root stocks to propagate a new tree.

“Somebody could take this little piece of a pear twig  and grow one, two, three, four new pear trees just from this little piece,” Postman said, after picking off the tip of a branch from the tree.

The cost? Since the USDA runs the gene bank using tax dollars, it will provide tree croppings to the public for free.

“It’s kind of like your public library,” Postman said. “I’m like the librarian. I’m the curator of a collection of trees.”

So what is the purpose of so many trees, especially the ones producing non-edible pears?

“Every pear tree is basically two varieties,” Postman said. “You’ve got one variety below the ground that provides the roots, and another variety above ground that makes the fruit.”

Postman says many of the non-edible varieties have roots that grow well in dry or cold areas. Their root stocks can be pieced with the grafting wood, or the tree croppings of a different variety, to grow a tree.

Thursday’s Field Day is from 1-5 pm at the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository, located at 33447 Peoria Road in Corvallis. Those who attend will be able to sample many different ripe pears, and learn more about the different varieties, including those that are used to make cider.

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