The woody pear belongs to the genus Xylomelum. There are five species in Xylomelum, two in south-west Western Australia and three in New South Wales and Queensland. All species are known by the common name of ‘woody pear’ after their distinctive and attractive fruits. They are members of the Protea family of plants.
The Woody Pear was one of the first Sydney plants mentioned by early botanists. It was viewed at the time as a typical example of the bizarre flora of Australia. Xylomelum pyriforme occurs in the eastern states of Australia and Xylomelum occidentale in Western Australia. The other two species are Xylomelum cunningham, Xylomelum angustifolium and Xylomelum scottianum.
Xylomelum pyriforme is found in coastal New South Wales from the Sydney Basin northwards. It prefers open forest and sandy soil. Xylomelum comes from the Greek xylon (wood) and melon (a fruit tree) and the Latin pyri (a pear) forma (shape) referring to the shape of the fruit. Xylomelum pyriforme may be a large open shrub or a small tree reaching about five metres. Immature leaves are large, lance-shaped and deeply serrated. Adult leaves are more oval, smaller and leathery and have non-serrated margins. All leaves have a prominent pattern of veins. In late spring creamy white flowers appear on spikes up to 8cm long making an attractive spectacle. Each fruit is 9cm long and of striking appearance. On the death of the plant or after a bushfire the fruit splits to release two winged seeds.
Xylomelum occidentale is found in south-west Western Australia from Perth through to Augusta and Manjimup. The species is scattered through banksia or jarrah/marri woodlands. It is usually found on sandy or sandy-gravelly soils. The tree is slow-growing and often straggly. The foliage is bright green. New shoots are hairy and brown. The leaves are in opposite pairs and 60 to 130 mm long. There are often a few prominent, prickly teeth. The white to cream flowers are sweetly scented and are from 10 to 12mm long. They are arranged in slender spikes. Flowering takes place in summer. The bark is brown and fibrous and flakes off. The enormous, woody fruits are pear-shaped and have a velvety texture. They are pale brown to grey in colour and up to 80mm long and 40mm wide. They may remain on the tree for a number of years. The winged seeds are released by fire or by the seed case drying sufficiently to split and release the seeds.
Xylomelum angustifolium is a small, erect tree of two to five metres and an ideal drought tolerant specimen for any hot, dry situation that has a minimum rainfall of 300mm. It has narrow stiff leaves and showy cream bottlebrush-type flowers. It is a popular tree for shade, ornamental, or shelter purposes.