The pear is native to coastal and mildly temperate regions of the Old World, from Western Europe and North Africa east right across Asia. It is a medium-sized tree, reaching 10–17 meters (33–56 ft) tall, often with a tall, narrow crown; a few species are shrubby.

The leaves are alternately arranged, simple, 2–12 centimetres (1–4 1⁄2 in) long, glossy green on some species, densely silvery-hairy in some others; leaf shape varies from broad oval to narrow lanceolate. Most pears are deciduous, but one or two species in Southeast Asia are evergreen. Most are cold-hardy, withstanding temperatures as low as −25 to −40 °C (−13 to −40 °F) in winter, except for the evergreen species, which only tolerate temperatures down to about −15 °C (5 °F).

The flowers are white, rarely tinted yellow or pink, 2–4 centimeters (1–1 1⁄2 in) diameter, and have five petals.[2] Like that of the related apple, the pear fruit is a pome, in most wild species 1–4 centimeters (1⁄2–1 1⁄2 in) diameter, but in some cultivated forms up to 18 centimeters (7 in) long and 8 centimeters (3 in) broad; the shape varies in most species from oblate or globose, to the classic pyriform ‘pear-shape’ of the European pear with an elongated basal portion and a bulbous end.