March 23rd 2019 Becky Emerson Carlberg Die Boids (birds) are singin' in da trees, Da Sky is lousy wit stars, Die Oeyth (Earth) stinks of poyfume (perfume), Spwring has Spwrung. You gotta be a 5th grader to totally appreciate my Michigander mother's poem she trotted out the first day of each spring in her best […]

March 23rd 2019

One cluster of Bradford pear blossoms

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Die Boids (birds) aresingin' in da trees,

Da Sky is lousy witstars,

Die Oeyth (Earth) stinksof poyfume (perfume),

Spwring has Spwrung.

You gotta be a 5th grader to totally appreciatemy Michigander mother's poem she trotted out the first day of each spring inher best imitation of a Bronx accent. Yes,spring has arrived. My peach, apricotand pear trees are merrily bursting into pink and white blooms. The bluish spikes of grape hyacinths hovernear the ground. Do they not know our last killing frost may still be weeksaway?

St. Patrick's Day weekend found me traveling to southeast Oklahoma. The weather was beautiful and trees along Interstate 40 had exploded in white blossoms from Shawnee to Sallisaw. Whitefield Exit was the epicenter for a flowering forest. I walked from the Fiesta Mart past the gas pumps, alongside the parking lot of an out-of-business store and down a single lane dirt road. On both sides the trees seemed enveloped in snow. Too early for dogwoods, I suspected some type of wild plum orgy. I looked closer. Oh No. Every tree was a Bradford pear.

New Public Enemy #1 the Bradford pear

Bradford pear trees were heavily touted to become the nextbest street and landscape tree in America.Luscious thick green foliage, typical pear-shaped branching that forms around ball or pyramidal shape, amazing displays of white flowers in earlyspring and brilliant red fall foliage.What more could one want?

In the early 1900s, over 86% of pear crops in the western USwere being destroyed by Fire Blight. Thenative bacteria (Erwinia amylovora), spread by pollinators, released a decimatingtoxin that flowed from blossoms through stems and trunks into the roots. Many species in the rose family weresusceptible, especially the cultivated European pear (Pyrus communis). Frank Reimer at the Southern Oregon ResearchStation was frantically searching for a resistant variety. He discovered the Callery pear (Pyruscalleryana) was strongly resistant but this ornamental pear grew in China,Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Japan. USDAplant explorer Frank Meyer was sent to collect 100 pounds of Callery pear seedsin 1918 and sent batches seeds to the US for propagation and study. In 1919, Reimer himself traveled to eastcentral China and collected seeds from two different provinces.

Acres of land were put into Callery pear production inOregon as well as Glenn Dale, Maryland, the USDA Plant Introduction Station. Not only was Callery pear resistant to FireBlight, the robust pear tolerated a variety of environmental conditions. Even today the European pear may be graftedonto rootstock of the Callery pear, giving it better resistance and hardiness.

In 1952, thornless Callery pears were discovered by the Glenn Dale research team which included horticulturalist F. C. Bradford. A treeless neighborhood was selected near the Maryland station to study the tree's performance. After 8 years of growth, the 'Bradfords' were deemed an ornamental success. Commercial production began in 1962. In 1969, Aristocrat was sold in Kentucky. This tree had a pyramidal form. The Chanticleer was cloned in Cleveland, Ohio and proved so hardy and street smart it spawned other genetically identical cultivar clones such as Cleveland Select, Stone Hill and Glenn's Form.

Lane of Bradford pears

Other landscape cultivars were released from the MDstation. Both the open-pollinatedthornless Whitehouse (1977) and the narrower Capital (1981) flowered moreabundantly than other Callery pears. Plant nurseries came on board. Autumn Blaze, a smaller variety with strikingautumn color and round canopy, was developed at a Horticultural Farm in Oregonand patented in 1978.

The magic began to wear thin. Bradford pears began cropping up inunintended places. As you see inOklahoma, the Bradford pear will leaf out earlier than native trees. Theflowers appear in groups of 6 to 12. Thestrong odor reminds one of rotting fish, which apparently smells heavenly tohoney bees, hoverflies and bumblebees. Thefruit, which is not supposed to be, ripens in late autumn and attracts robins,European Starlings and Cedar Wax Wings.

Wood boring beetles are repelled by chemicals within theBradford pear, but not white-tailed deer.Some Bradfords have reverted back to their native thorny branches,discouraging other herbivores. Can thesetrees think? They can live on mountains,parking lots and streets while putting up with drought and heat. What they don't like is excessive cold andshade, so are not common in the northern US nor growing under other trees.

In the eastern and southern parts of the US we see Bradfordpears everywhere. By 1964 the tree had escaped cultivation and gone rogue inArkansas. Their proliferation has beenbird-assisted along fences, in fields, by houses, and adjacent to roads. Now found in the wild in over 26 states, thistree is definitely making an environmental impact. Because of its fast growth, it outcompeteswith other native trees and forms thickets.The branch attachments are weak and the tree shreds and sheds in storms,ice and snow. The tree only lives about25 years, but that is 25 years too long.A group of Bradford pears in bloom is, well, nauseating if you'restanding down wind. The soft, gushyfruit is something else when it lands on walkways, such as by a store oroffice. Bradford pears are promiscuousand prolific.

'The curse of the Bradford pear' is an annual bashing of thedespicable tree by writer/gardener Durant Ashmore, Greenville News, SC. He states just one tree can spawn thousandsof evil progeny.

Steve Bender, The Grumpy Gardener in Southern Livingmagazine, offered a set of high-quality Corona bypass loppers to three luckyreaders who sent in pictures of horrible crepe myrtle murders. Folks in his area regularly butcher theircrepe myrtles, much to his chagrin. The loppers were to be used on Bradfordpears, not crepe myrtles!

Wild Bradford pear forests surfaced in Oklahoma over a dozen years ago. Oklahoma Forester Mark Bays said little birds eat the little pears, do what birds do and planted pears across the state. In 2017 Oklahoma City parks discovered 542 volunteer Bradford pears.

Spring Grape Hyacinth

This January the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Servicepublished fact sheet L-469 'The Invasive Callery Pear' with color photos! They recommend ZERO tolerance.

So, what to do. Cutdown the Bradford with a chainsaw for firewood.Bradford pear wood is dense and heavy.It burns hot and makes a good coal bed.If concerned about toxic chemicals, as am I, repeatedly apply homemadebrush killer to stump and suckers. Allow suckers to first reach 12 inches. Keep cutting and killing using vinegar orvinegar solutions with dish detergent to end the little suckers.

Plant native alternatives.Eastern Redbud, Fringe tree, Flowering Dogwood, American Smoke tree,American or Eastern Hop Hornbeam, American or Mexican Plum, Chokecherry, CarolinaBuckthorn, Sassafras, or Blackhaw Viburnum are trees that not only look good inthe landscape but do good for the wildlife.

As Durant Ashmore says: 'Save the world. Eliminate Bradford pears. Enjoy your coffee.'