Pear Blossom – Flower of the Month

August 7, 2020

closeup image of pear blossoms
Photo by Davide Mancuso from Pexels

Continuing my Flower of the Month postings, I’m posting today about August’s flower of the month according to Chinese legend, the Pear Blossom.

Background

Native to Asia, the pear tree is a hardy tree that can grow in a variety of climates. Pear blossoms, fruit, and other parts of the tree have been used for thousands of years in healing potions and shamanism. Like many plants, it also has a strong history in folklore and fairytales.

Pear Blossom Floriography

Associated with purity, longevity, and immortality (even though the tree only lives 25-50 years in general), the Chinese hold this plant in high regard. In western culture, the blossom means health and hope. If given as a gift, it may have several meanings. It is often meant to express affection, love, or lust (the lust portion will become clear later…keep reading!). In times past, it also signified faeries at work and may warn or send a message to the recipient to that end.

If utilized in wedding florals, pear blossoms are meant to portray love and affection for one’s beloved. They bear the message “I hope for a long life full of love with you.” For this reason, this delicate and airy flower is a lovely addition to weddings. (For an offbeat interpretation, adding some pear fruit into the arrangements will carry a similar meaning!)

Pear Blossom Folklore

As many of the flowers of the month, historical folklore and legends are rife with connections to pear blossoms. I’ll introduce a few of my favorites and will link to other sources for further reading.

In Christianity, the pear or pear tree often alludes to Christ’s love for mankind. In the Bible, it is a symbol of the salvation and eternal life promised to Christians. It is also largely associated with peace and general well-being.

In China, it was considered bad luck to separate the branches of a pear tree and try to graft it to an apple tree. The prevailing thought is that it was “unnatural” and therefore would bring misfortune to those who attempted it, along with colossal failure.

Pears and pear blossoms are connected as sacred to several mythological figures. In ancient Egypt, Isis was often depicted holding a pear or blossom. Pear trees were sacred to Hera, Greek goddess of marriage and family. Many depictions of Hera are carved from the wood of a pear tree. In Homer’s Odyssey, Homer states that pear trees are a gift from the gods themselves.

Pre-19th century in both Asia and Europe, people planted pear trees to ward off evil spirits. Usually they placed the trees near a gate (to keep the evil from entering) or at the northeast corner of a property. At the time, people believed that section belong to Satan – the “devil’s quarter”.

botanical drawing of a pear blossom(s), public domain
Musky pear flower (Pyrus × bretschneideri) from Pomona Italiana (1817 – 1839) by Giorgio Gallesio (1772-1839). Original from The New York Public Library. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

Paddy Berron, the “Humpy Fairy”

There are many old Irish tales of faeries and pear trees, but one I found in particular (from this very interesting facebook post)caught my interest. Paddy Berron stayed out late playing cards and to get home quickly, passed through an oft-disparaged meadow. Most of the villagers refrained from traveling that direction; but at the dark and late hour, he decided he’d take this shortcut home.

He heard some faeries approaching, so he hid himself behind the pear tree – but the faeries knew he was there. They called for him to come out and finally they reached behind it and yanked him out. They cursed him with a hump back and he then became known as the “humpy fairy.” The original transcription can be found here. Guess that particularly pear tree didn’t afford much protection…or is it a warning that staying out too late and walking home through a freaky meadow isn’t the best idea?

Lusty Pears

There are several legends from around the world that all have pears playing a part in a tryst between forbidden lovers. The tales don’t vary much except in details though they come from India, China, the Middle East, and Turkey. Geoffrey Chaucer also mentions the pear tree in his Canturbury Tales, which is actually my favorite version of the tale.

Chaucer's "The Merchant's Tale" is depicted here. May climbs to her lover Damian in the tree, using January's back as her boost. Pear blossoms are featured heavily in this story.
Image from the Canterbury Tales version, “The Merchant’s Tale”. Read more here for how Arabian Nights influenced Chaucer’s work.

Though the details differ, the basic premise of all of these stories is the same. In what seem to be the original forms of the tale (Arabian Nights and the Indian versions), an old noble marries a young woman. She doesn’t love him and isn’t attracted to him, but he is jealous and possessive. He doesn’t allow her to wander far from him except to use the bathroom. Through a series of letters exchanged in secret and read in said bathroom, she falls in love with one of the young and energetic guards of the estate. They hatch a risky plan to consummate their love in the garden where the woman walks with her husband.

The guard accompanies the couple, walking a respectful distance behind. As they come to the pear tree, she tells her husband she’d like to climb up to get a pear. He allows her to climb, even giving her a boost. When she’s at the top of the tree she yells down, “What are you doing?! I can see you making love to that strange woman! As soon as I come down, divorce me quickly!” The husband, quite confused, insists he has done no such thing and begs her to come down. She comes down and begins looking for the woman, but can’t find her. At the husband’s continued insistence that nothing unsavory happened, she surmises the pear must be an enchanted hallucinogenic tree. She asks her husband to climb to the top and see if he sees anything strange.

As her husband climbs the tree, her lover comes out of hiding and they consummate their love in broad daylight, right in front of her husband. He shouts down that he can see them and yells profanities as he scurries down. By the time he gets to the bottom of the tree, the guard and the woman are sitting innocently separated from each other. The husband ordered the tree cut down immediately, saying it must be haunted by demons. In some versions of the story, the husband relaxes his possessiveness and allows the wife to wander more freely after this experience and she was able to keep up her relationship with the young guard.

So, there it is, pear blossoms are yet another example of the rich history and folklore of flowers. What was your favorite story? Any other pear folklore you know about? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe & sane lovelies,

-xoxo, MJ

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