Two pear trees planted in 2009 to honor deceased veterans in Ascension Parish have been traced back to a 100-plus-year-old tree through DNA testing.
Mike Bourgeois, a longtime volunteer with the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, said he was surprised to find that the tree he grafted the pear saplings from “was a lot older than we thought.”
Bourgeois said he and others thought the saplings and the fruit they produced originated from a tree in Converse planted in the 1930s.
However, experts from the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon, used DNA testing to determine that the grafts came from a 110- to 115-year-old Louisiana pear tree, which is now part of the World Pear Collection in Oregon.
The Pointe Coupee tree is considered the oldest living specimen of its kind still in existence, Bourgeois said.
Bourgeois traced court records that indicate that his great-grandfather, Antonino Ventrella, immigrated from Sicily to Louisiana in 1889 and was naturalized in 1891 at age 40. He bought property in Pointe Coupee Parish on April 17, 1901.
Ventrella planted a pear tree soon after moving to the Pointe Coupee land from Luling.
Bourgeois sent branches from the Pointe Coupee tree to the repository’s curator, Joseph Postman.
Bourgeois has spent several years taking grafts from the tree and planting them to produce fruit for the food bank.
“It’s a great way to help out,” Bourgeois said. “It’s an easy way for businesses and government to lend a hand.”
In 2009, Parish President Tommy Martinez and Councilman Benny Johnson planted two saplings from the heirloom Louisiana pear tree in the inaugural planting of the Ascension Parish Memorial Donation Orchard and Garden at Duplessis Park. Those trees have not yet produced fruit.
Other trees were planted at Sammy’s Grill and Fusion Health and Fitness in Prairieville. Pears from the Sammy’s trees were harvested in August and delivered to the food bank, Bourgeois said.
Parish officials are considering adding pear trees from Bourgeois in the landscaping at the new parish governmental complex now under construction in Gonzales, parish officials said.
Bourgeois is hoping more businesses and government entities plant fruit trees in their landscapes.
He’s also encouraging residents to donate fruits and vegetables from their orchards and gardens to the food bank.
“You can get a tax donation form from the food bank and … it adds up,” Bourgeois said.
For information or to donate, call the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank at (225) 359-9940.