It's Spring! See all the things blooming? Do you have blooming Bradford pears? You might want to learn more about these non-natives..

Becky Emerson Carlberg

After a cool start with the temperatures dropping down close to freezing this morning, take heart.  This is the first day of spring, the vernal equinox.  The earth’s axis tilts neither toward nor away from the sun.  Both the day and the night are almost the same in length. 

It is a good time to go out and look at the early spring finery.  Daffodils wave their yellow flowers above the ground, and the stems of forsythia shrubs, either trimmed or cascading down, are full of delicate yellow blooms.   Flowering quinces add their deep red-pink petals, and this year they are especially brilliant.  My apricots and peaches are just beginning to blossom (darn it.  Don’t they know it is going to drop below freezing in the near future, so the weatherfolk predict), the white plum flowers remind people where the plums trees hide in the woods, the redbuds are almost in flower, and let’s not forget the Bradford pear.

Everywhere.  The Bradford pear became the tree of choice for urban developments.  A fast growing, tidy non-native with showy flowers in the spring and bright orange-red leaves in the fall.  What could be better?   Round or oval symmetrical balls of white fluff, many well over twenty feet tall, currently line driveways, roads, and sidewalks.  They dot the landscape like giant snowballs.  As gorgeous as they are right now (minus the sickenly sweet odor/ the smell of dead squirrels if one stands downwind from a group of more than two trees), these pear trees come with baggage.

They are not ice, heavy snow or wind resistant.  Those multiple branches that support a legion of flowers tear away in mass if stressed.  Studies have indicated that the sharp angle the branches originate from the trunk make these trees more susceptible to injury.  Their life span may last 25 years.  The Bradford pear is a cultivar (variety) of the Callery pear. 

This little number was introduced into the USA in the early 1900’s, native to Vietnam and China.  A cold temperature and drought tolerant, hardy tree, its rootstock was used in grafts of pears initially.  Pyruscalleryana ‘Bradford’ is unable to reproduce itself by fertile seeds, but more than able to cross pollinate with other varieties, forming fertile offspring.  How?  The sprouts that rise from the roots are of a different gene pool (transplant, remember?), and these can definitely cross pollinate with the rest of the tree above them.  Interestingly, their offspring may even have small thorns.  Thus, these trees have a habit of becoming notoriously invasive, and can form dense thickets. 

Yes, I have two Callery ‘Bradford’ pears, and the Cedar waxwings and other birds spend their time picking the marble-sized pears, ripping into the center and extracting the seeds.  But not all of them.  The birds either distribute seeds through their droppings or residual pear leavings.  I conduct Callery pear hunts every spring in search of saplings that come up directly under or far away from the mother trees.  Some organizations are now exterminating any reproducing Callery pears found in the wild.  Chadwick Cox, of the Oklahoma Native Plant Society considers the pear very invasive and is conducting an Oklahoma survey of self-planted Callery pears found along fence rows and fallow fields.  The spread will be most obvious outside smaller towns.  He offers his e-mail address to anyone wanting to know more or participate in the survey:

Want some alternatives to the Callery ‘Bradford’ pear?  Common serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), hawthorns (Crataegus spp.), the native sweet crabapple (Malus coronaria), Chinese pistache and red maples are recommended.

Have a look at on-line “The Daily South”, Feb. 28, 2011 “I Just Hate Bradford Pears” article written by Steve Bender.  At the end of the story are all kinds of comments about Bradford pears.  If you have the dreaded Callery ‘Bradford’ pear, you may think about carefully pruning it back—to the roots stated one person.  I like the very first comment: “….they are terrible!  The only good thing about them is the little bitty blooms falling like snow”.  Oh yes, it may snow in Oklahoma this weekend!

“The Daily South”