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The Bradford Pear Curse

Its that time of year again for us to rant about the evil Bradford Pear trees!

When Bradford pear was introduced as an ornamental in 1964 by the US Department of Agriculture, it was known then that this tree possessed the weakest branch structure in nature and the tree was assumed to be sterile. Bradford pears will last more than 20 years before they bust themselves apart at the seams and that's the good news..

Bradford pear is said to be worse than kudzu, and the ill-conceived progeny of Bradford pear will be cursing our environment for decades or possibly centuries yet to come. Bradford has been planted extensively across the southeastern part of the United States because it was beautiful, inexpensive, transported well, and easy to grow. After a few years in the landscape, homeowners, commercial landscapers and city urban foresters all began to see unexpected problems.

The shape of Bradford Pear is due to the angle branches are attached. Unfortunately, this tight angle allows branches to break off in thunder storms, rain storms and sometimes a process called “summer limb drop” occurs. Summer limb drop happens when it is hot, the plants are transpiring, and limbs just break and fall off.

However, the fact that Bradford pear trees are short lived and dangerous is not the real reason that these trees are such a disaster. The problem is that these trees are in fact not sterile. No two Bradford pears will ever reproduce among themselves, but they do cross pollinate with every other pear tree out there, including the Cleveland Select pear trees that were meant to be the salvation of flowering pears everywhere. The introduction of other pear varieties has compounded the problem to the point where it is almost too late to fix!

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 out the life out of native species! Pines, dogwoods, maples, oaks, hickories, etc.

When you see those fields of white flowering trees, what you are looking at are Callery pears destroying nature. Callery pears have 4 inch thorns. They can’t be mowed down. These thorns will shred John Deere tractor tires. They can only be removed by steel tracked dozers, decreasing the value of agricultural or forest land to the tune of $3,000 per acre.

Some think just because this tree flowers, it should be worshiped. Does this principle apply to the pretty purple petals of kudzu?

That’s one ironic thing about invasive species. They aren’t invasive everywhere. English laurel is illegal to grow and sell in Oregon because of the way it is dominating the Northwest woodlands. However, east of the Mississippi, English laurel is not invasive in the least.

Ornamental pears also have this same type of pattern. They aren’t invasive in Tennessee. However, in a grand swath following I-85 from Atlanta and then up and into the mid-western states, these pears have proliferated by the millions. We have that tree in Tennessee to thank for that...

Wondering what to plant in its place? Peggy Clark apricot, Serviceberry, Witch Hazel, Sourwood, Maple, Oak, Blackgum, Crape Myrtle, Natchez Crape Myrtle, and Redbud are all fun alternatives!

If you ever go visit a plant nursery and want to know if it is a good one or not, ask if they sell Bradford pears. All reputable nurseries are well aware of the evils of this tree, and refuse to sell them. Don’t let someone talk you into a Cleveland Select or other pear tree, all varieties of “ornamental” pear trees are equally bad.

If you want to help give back to Mother Earth, cut down your Bradford pear trees! We could not be more serious about this!



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