A sign of spring but not welcomed in many places. There is a county in Kentucky that offers a free alternative tree for every Bradford Pear you cut down in your yard. But why? I wanted to find out the problem, besides the fact that the flowers stink like rotting fish.
Introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture facility at Glendale, Maryland, as ornamental landscape trees in the mid-1960s, they are pretty much disease free, grow well in any soil, have beautiful white spring blooms and can be gorgeous in the fall. They are inexpensive, travel well and grow quickly. Lady Bird Johnson promoted the tree in 1966 by planting one in downtown Washington, D.C.
They tolerate most drainage levels and soil acidity so you’ll see many in industrial parks, along streets, shopping centers, and office parks. The leaves are oval, 1 1⁄2 to 3 inch long, glossy dark green above, on long pedicels that make them flash their slightly paler undersides in a breeze. The white, five-petaled flowers are about 3⁄4 to 1 inch in diameter.
They are Pyrus calleryana, or the Callery pear, a species of pear tree native to China and Vietnam, in the family Rosaceae. Besides the sickening flower odor the other flaws are harder to ignore. They are a structural challenge.
They have very weak crotches that result in unstable forks and are easily broken off. In about 20 years most trees just self destruct under their own badly grown limbs and start constantly breaking and falling. their seeds are carried by birds and cultivate readily nearby and can even cross-pollinate with other pears trees.
These are a wild stand of the species with irregular crown shape and thorns. The thorns have been known to be strong and sharp enough to puncture car tires. Pear wood is among the best of all fruit woods. It us prized for making woodwinds and veneer for furniture. It also makes great firewood. The Bradford Pear has become an invasive species that harms native plants or trees that support wildlife. Property owners and managers are urged to consider native alternatives.