OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312



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Medlar, Mespilus germanica



In medieval sources


Description   Propagation   Cultivation     Harvest


Mespilus germanica

Meso, Greek for middle or half; pilus, a ball
germanica, from Germany

Medlar in early sources

Common names, modern Medlar


Lifespan Perennial
Cold hardiness Z 4-9. Mespilus can also be grown in a pot and brought inside through winter.
Size A small tree or large shrub, about 10'-20 high by 10'-20' wide

With its short trunk, crooked branches, and abundant foliage that turns bronze red in the fall, the medlar is a lovely little tree.

Medlar blossomFlower

Medlars bloom in May, with white blossoms that fade to pink. They are self-fertile, so bear fruit when grown singly as well as in groups.

Medlar fruitFruit

Medlars bear in their second or third year; their fruit is about the size of a crabapple, 1-2" in diameter, and is covered with green, leathery skin. Fruit is harvested after the first hard frost. Looking at the fruit, it is easy to see the fitness of its name, meso pilus, "half ball." Fruit is ripened, or "bletted," in 2-3 weeks storage, to acquire its characteristic, spicy apple taste. Roasting it with butter and cloves produces a traditional winter treat.

Medlar foliageFoliage

Oval leaves eaves are 4-6" long, a rich green color, and downy; they turn shades of yellow to vivid red in the fall. Wild medlars may have thorns; cultivated varieties do not.


From cuttings

I'll graff it with you, and then I shall graff it with a medlar: then it will be the earliest fruit i' the country

As You Like It

Medlars are difficult to start from seed, and the resulting tree often produces inedible fruit. As a result, medlars are typically propagated by grafting a cutting onto rootstock from quince, hawthorn, or pear.

Modern cultivars include Breda, Dutch, Macrocarpa, Marron, Monstrueuse De Evreinof, Nottingham, and Royal.


Soil Tolerant of most well-drained soils
Moisture Do well in dry conditions, but prefer moist, well-drained locations.
Light Full sun
Natural habitat

In the wild, found on open land and at the edge of the forest, particularly associated with oak and hornbeam. Medlars may be native to central Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, and  were being grown in Rome by 200 CE.

Vigor Long-lived
Pests Leaf-miners, apple and plum case-bearers (Coleophora nigricella), but usually damage is minor.
Season to bear

Harvest after the first hard frost in the fall, then store at room temperature to begin the bletting process; fruit is ready to eat when it becomes sweet-sour and mushy. In the Middle Ages, medlars were stored in straw in cold (but not freezing) storerooms or barns, and provided welcome fruit throughout the winter.


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