The Bradford Pear tree (Pyrus calleryana). originated in China and was introduced in 1964 by the US Department of Agriculture as an ornamental tree. This flowering tree was assumed to be sterile (spoiler alert- it isn’t!) Sure, they don’t pollinate among themselves, but these promiscuous and stinky little trees like to pollinate with EVERYTHING else out there. And they are known for their weak branch structure. They have a lifespan only 20-25 years, as anyone who has seen these trees in an ice storm can attest.
Everywhere you go you see these pear trees planted and not just by people. The birds help to deposit the seeds in various places and you end up with Bradford pear trees in wild areas where they shouldn’t be. They may not be hurting your yard, but they are causing major damage for farmers and choking out beautiful (and valuable) hardwood trees. Because of the cross pollination problem, pear trees have now proliferated exponentially across our environment. And, to make matters worse, the evil offspring has reverted to the ancient Chinese Callery pears which form impenetrable thorny thickets that choke the life out of pines, dogwoods, maples, redbuds, oaks, hickories, etc.
The tree does look pretty in the spring when the blossoms are in full bloom. It stands in your yard like a giant Q-tip. But its wonderful bathroom utensil-like appearance is not all you get, an extremely odoriferous aroma tags along as well. The smell is reminiscent of rotting flesh or bad fish left for too many days in the hot sun. I won’t elaborate any further but the smell is very unpleasant! If you only have one or two of the trees planted the smell is tolerable, but when planted en mass the trees are overpowering.
Another problem associated with Bradford pear trees is the weak wood. Because of their fast growth and tight branching pattern they split very frequently in high winds. Bradford pear branches grow from a central point in a “V” form which makes it a very weak joint. That weak joint on the trunk ensures significant damage when a branch suddenly breaks in the wind or from ice accumulation. of
So what could you plant?
There are several native trees that are much more desirable.
*Wild Plum, Prunus Americana, grown as a single trunk tree or multi-stemmed shrub, early spring pure white, fragrant blooms, edible yellow to red, round fruits and host to the Red-spotted Purple Butterfly and many moths.
*American Hornbean, Carpinus caroliniana, small to med. tree forming wide spreading rounded tops with dark green leaves, fall color and thin, bluish-gray bark.
*Dogwoods, Cornus florida, white blooms, deep red fall color.
*Black Haw Viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium, white spring flowers, red fall color, fruit for the birds. Grow as a small tree or multi stemmed shrub.
*Serviceberry, Amelanchier arborea, early spring white, fragrant flowers, berrylike fruits edible for people and birds, colorful fall color.
*Black gum, Nyssa sylvatica, excellent specimen tree with a tidy shape, dark green leaves, fall color, fruit for the birds, dark gray bark, host to the black and white Hebrew Moth.
*Redbud, Cercis Canadensis, pink flowers, heart shaped leaves, yellow fall color.
*Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, white flowers in spring, 3-6” long clusters, suckering tree or large shrub, shade tolerance.
*Yellowwood, Cladrastis kentukea, medium sized tree, golden fall color, fragrant, white flowers in May, flowers are pendulous 8-14’ long panicles, smooth gray bark
*Ironwood (Eastern hop hornbeam), Ostrya virginiana, under story tree, birch like leaves, flaky bark, fine textured drooping branches, attractive hop-like fruits.
For more info on the native trees, check out www.grownative.org
**Tree info from GrowNative website.