Whack That Bradford Pear

A recent story in the New York Times created a new hubbub over Callery Pears, specifically the popular ornamental Bradford Pear.

The Bradford Pear was one of the trees we avoided planting in home landscapes, primarily due to its weak branching structure — those ‘V-shaped’ crotches — that were infamous for splitting-out in ice or snow, just as the tree matured and gained some nice size. People love their fast growth, combined with their neat oval shape, glossy green leaves and abundance of white flowers, even though they have stinky blossoms that catch your attention from a distance.

Over my 35 years of landscape contracting, we saw them widely planted in commercial developments and home landscapes. Our closest contact with them was their removal, when one or more would invariably split-out on a client’s property.

This latest awareness of their undesirability, including that of other Callery Pear cultivars, relates to their invasiveness, as they have cross-pollinated and spread into abandoned lots and fields, roadsides and forest edges, with their large, tire-piercing thorns being one major problem when it comes to their removal.

When Bradford was the only clone available, they were sterile. But other cultivars were introduced to improve the poor structure of Bradford – that’s when they were able to crossbreed and produce fruit and seeds. Drive the Parkway out to the Pittsburgh airport in April and you will see what a huge problem these pears have become.

Sandy Feather, Penn State Extension, Allegheny County, PA
In other states we see:
  • South Carolina even has a bounty on them, gifting 5 better varieties of trees for proof of 5 Bradford Pears being removed. More desirable species recommended in that state include: Flowering Dogwood, Kousa Dogwood, Fringetree and Carolina Silver Bell.
  • North Carolina residents are encouraged to consider these native trees instead of flowering Pears: Eastern Redbud, White Fringetree, Dogwoods, and Washington Hawthorn, along with other tree selections.
  • Maryland residents are encouraged to plant Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.), and Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) instead.

This latest hot topic comes on the heels of renewed awareness about invasive shrubs in home landscapes, which I covered in my November 13th blog (Barberries Barred in Pennsylvania).

Controlling their spread into the wild will be a major problem, especially considering how many ornamental pears have been planted over recent decades!

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