A combination of a frost last May and the humid summer weather created perfect conditions for russeting pears. In extreme cases the fruit develops deep cracks and dries out. Credit: Courtesy of Leslie Harris

There is nothing pretty about what’s going on with some fruit trees in Maine right now. Pears are cracking and drying out to the point that they are looking more like an alligator than a tasty fruit.

The cracking skin is a symptom of russeting, a condition common to pears and apples. Fruit experts say it’s perfectly natural and is the latest growers’ headache that can be traced directly to the frost that hit the state in May.

“I see it all the time, unfortunately,” said Renea Moran, University of Maine professor of pomology. “The skin is a delicate creature and in some cases the May 18 frost hit when the [pear] blossoms were developing.”

A frost this past May followed a string of unusual 70-degree days in April that caused many fruiting plants and trees to blossom early. Any that were not covered during the frost died.

Frost hitting the fruit blossoms is a common cause of russeting,

Most of the time russeting shows up as rough cork-like areas on the skin of pears and apples as they ripen on the tree. Russeted skin does not expand as easily as a health peel, Moran said. During the final fruit swelling — or ripening — the skin can break open and leave large cracks.

After the frost in May, conditions for optimal pear growth did not improve as the summer wore on.

“That May frost set the tone for the year and then it rained all the time,” Moran said. “That kind of high humidity can damage the skin as well.”

Russeting caused by the frost helps explain why some pears are cracked and others perfectly healthy on the same tree. It depends on when each pear was in blossom, Moran said.

Blossoms that appeared after the danger of a frost were able to grow into healthy, russet-free pears.

It does make the affected pear or apples a bit unattractive, but it does not reduce the quality of the fruit.

“They usually get turned into culls and will get turned into cider,” Moran said. “They are still edible.”

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.