Medlar (Mespilus germanica) is native to western Asia and possibly southeastern Europe (Baird and Thieret 1989; Phipps et al. 1991), although it spread throughout Europe long ago. Pollman and Jacomet (2012) report finds of Mespilus seeds from the 2nd century A.D. in Switzerland and summarize the archaeobotanical evidence of Mespilus fruit stones in central Europe during Roman times (the species is presumed to have been brought there by the occupying Romans). Baird and Thieret (1989) provide an extensive review of not only the biology, history, and economic botany of Medlar, but also its occurrence in literature. They lament the apparent slide of this species into relative obscurity during the past century.
The Medlar fruit is remarkable in that the 5 seed vessels are visible in the eye of the fruit because the fruit is set in the receptacle as in a gaping cup around the rim of which stand 5 conspicuous calyx lobes ("calyx" refers collectively to a flower's sepals). The fruit is rich in sugars (around 11%) and is a good source of potassium, but it is quite low in Vitamin C (2 mg per 100 g). The fruit is usually allowed to become partly rotten, soft and brown, to make it palatable (see Baird and Thieret 1989 for a discussion of the ripening of Medlar fruit). At one time, these fruits were commonly eaten with port wine at the end of a meal. They may be used to make jam. Medlar is a spreading tree that may be shaped somewhat by the wind. The wild tree has thorns, but cultivated forms are thornless. Flowers are borne at the ends of short young shoots in late spring and early summer. (Vaughan and Geissler 1997)
Curiously, an apparent second species in the genus Mespilus was recognized from Arkansas (United States) in 1990 (Phipps 1990; Phipps et al. 1991). However, Lo et al. (2007) have argued that this is probably a nothospecies (i.e., the result of hybridization between two other species) and placed it in the genus Crataegus, along with M. germanica (see Lo et al. 2007 for details).
- Baird, J.R. and J.W. Thieret. 1989. The Medlar (Mespilus germanica, Rosaceae) from Antiquity to Obscurity. Economic Botany 43(3): 328-372.
- Lo, E.Y.Y., S. Stefanović, and T.A. Dickinson. 2007. Molecular Reappraisal of Relationships Between Crataegus and Mespilus (Rosaceae, Pyreae)—Two Genera or One? Systematic Botany 32(3): 596-616.
- Phipps, J. B. 1990. Mespilus canescens a new Rosaceous endemic from Arkansas. Systematic Botany 15: 26-32.
- Phipps, J.B., N.F. Weeden, and E.E. Dickson. Isozyme Evidence for the Naturalness of Mespilus L. (Rosaceae, Subfam. Maloideae). Systematic Botany 16(3): 546-552.
- Pollman, B. and S. Jacomet. 2012. First evidence of Mespilus germanica L. (medlar) in Roman Switzerland. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 21(1): 61-68.
- Vaughan, J.G. and C.A. Geissler. 1997. The New Oxford Book of Food Plants (revised and updated edition). Oxford University Press, New York.
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