Why Bradford Pear Tree Is No Friend Of Yours
Spring is the season for flowering plants and trees. However, a word of caution: some of these lovely flowers may originate from intrusive species.
One of those plants is the Bradford pear, a tree with some unappealing characteristics that is covered in white flowers.
What was formerly seen as an aesthetic and low-maintenance adornment for yards and parks has proven to be harmful to native plants and has been outlawed in some jurisdictions.
According to Steven Long, deputy head of the department of plant industry at Clemson University in South Carolina, these trees “have little to no benefit for wildlife and destroy native trees.” Other issues? Long stated that their thorns can pierce vehicle tires and their flowers stink.
What is the origin of the Bradford pear tree? Why is it harmful to native vegetation? How can homeowners eliminate it? Here are some facts about this invasive plant:
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What exactly is a Bradford pear?
The Bradford pear, sometimes known as the “Callery” pear, is a well-known ornamental tree native to Asia and widely distributed in the eastern United States. It is primarily cultivated in South Carolina.
Assistant professor of forestry and environmental resources at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, Kelly Oten, stated, “They exist in suburban and rural regions, as well as natural woods.”
Some have described the odor of the tree’s flowers as decaying fish, urine, and infant feces. Despite having a disagreeable odor, the sweet white flowers that blossom in early spring attract admirers.
Where did they originate?
In the mid-1960s, the U.S Department of Agriculture promoted the plants as decorative landscape trees. They gained popularity with landscapers due to their low cost, portability, and rapid growth.
As a sterile hybrid, plant specialists did not believe the tree would proliferate uncontrollably, but scientists created smaller hybrids to compensate for the Bradford pear’s weak branches.
The trees are incapable of self-pollination but can reproduce with another Pyrus calleryana type. The progeny are known as Callery pears.
Even more hazardous than the original Bradford pear tree is the ensuing hybrids.
Are Bradford pears hazardous?
Yes. The trees suffocate other vegetation, especially in fallow fields or vacant areas deemed to be future woods. They can reach 30 feet in height, and the “dead zone” beneath their dense canopy prevents other plants from receiving light.
Because they blossom earlier in the spring—from March to mid-April—Bradford pears outcompete neighboring native species for resources.
According to Long, trees also increase the expense of land maintenance.
“They reproduce prolifically in formerly planted areas and tend to dominate tiny lots because they are among the first to emerge after a lot is no longer mowed,” he explained.
“Callery pears are the equivalent of a food desert for birds,” said Oten. “They do not eat on caterpillars, which are particularly vital in the spring when mother birds are searching for soft-bodied insects to feed their young.
Due to the absence of caterpillars that feed on the Bradford pear, there is nothing there for them to consume.”
The trees “break quickly during ice and wind storms, of which (South Carolina) has many,” added Long.
In the 1980s, scientists discovered that the tree has a brittle composition. Its characteristic “steep v crotch” indicates that the tree has a weak structure at the “V” of the branch, but is stronger in other directions, causing it to break off in regions due to old age and severe winds.
Parking beneath a Bradford pear is discouraged.
Where are trees prohibited?
South Carolina has passed a ban on the sale of new Bradford pears beginning on October 1, 2024. In Pennsylvania, a prohibition on the sale and cultivation of the tree will likewise go into force in February of that year.
In Ohio, the tree was added to the list of invasive species in January 2018, requiring nurseries and landscapers to stop selling the tree over the next five years.
According to experts, as long as the Bradford pear tree exists in South Carolina, all native species will struggle. Even trees such as oaks, maples, and hickories that are not threatened with extinction are being outcompeted.
The methods of attack against Bradford pears in South Carolina range from bounties to bans.
Long stated, “I anticipate that many more states will shortly follow Ohio and South Carolina’s lead on this issue.”
How does one eradicate a Bradford pear tree?
A Bradford pear has a very short lifespan of 20 years, yet the species may have reached its tenth generation of production.
“When pears mate with other pears and have wild offspring, the young do have thorns. This can make removal tough “Oten said.
Because the thorns are sufficiently sharp to puncture tires, it is difficult to mow a field of Bradford’s.
Some pesticides and fire are both viable strategies for eradication, however, fire has been found to promote regrowth.
According to experts, cutting down trees is the most effective strategy, and some jurisdictions offer financial incentives for tree removal. The University of Clemson in South Carolina has volunteered to swap five cut-down Bradford pears for native trees.
Before planting a new tree in the same location, the North Carolina Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program recommends removing or treating the stump with a herbicide to prevent it from growing new trees, and grinding down the stump.
According to the program, several landscaping companies provide stump-grinding services.
Homeowners should avoid planting the tree at all costs and instead plant native species.
Oten stated, “There are other natural trees with remarkably similar flowers, such as the blooming dogwood, black cherry, and serviceberry.”