Ozark Outdoors

Bradford Pear Tree has lost its luster in landscapes

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – With seemingly angelic white blossoms that  can transform an early springtime landscape, the Bradford Pear Tree has long been a favorite selection in commercial and home landscapes.

The stunning white flowers of the Bradford Pear bear no fruit, and produce invasive seedlings.

The stunning white flowers of the Bradford Pear bear no fruit, and produce invasive seedlings.

With its flamboyant flaming foliage in fall, the ability to tolerate air pollution and resist disease, and an astounding growth rate, it seemed like an easy choice at the box store nursery where it’s every gardener for himself.

Not so fast, warns Patrick Byers, horticulture specialist with University of Missouri Extension. This beauty has been relegated to Nightmare on Elm Street status and a dreaded “invasive specimen” designation.

“People ask, ‘What is the beautiful tree that is blooming along the interstate or along Highway 60′?” says Patrick Byers, horticulture specialist with MU Extension. “In warmer southern states, including Arkansas and southern Missouri, the tree is now considered an invasive species.’

A broken limb on a Bradford Pear during even a moderate Ozarks thunderstorm can ruin the tree's appeal overnight, and become a mess to clean up the morning after.

A broken limb on a Bradford Pear during even a moderate Ozarks thunderstorm can ruin the tree’s appeal overnight, and become a mess to clean up the morning after.

Just one of several cultivars of the Callery pear, the Bradford was brought to the West from China in the late 1800s as a small ornamental. Over many years, more cultivars of the pear were developed with an eye toward strengthening its notoriously weak branch structure.

Breeding also moved the pear away from being a non-fruiting tree that was cloned for sale in the landscape trade to one that produces lots of fruit and therefore lots of seed. The tree can spread both by seeds and vegetatively through sprouts from the base.

The tree’s white blossoms are ubiquitous in any place where the sun shines – parks, highway rights of way, vacant lots, even areas under partially open forest canopies. Not to be confused with native white dogwood that also brings a sprinkling of white blossoms in early springtime, the Bradford has a completely different profile.

Moreover, the same toughness that made it a welcome choice in heavily trafficked landscapes also makes the Bradford Pear an aggressive spreader that can quickly crowd out native species. By now, the tree has escaped cultivation and is considered an invasive species, even as its aging species turn into a neighborhood liability to utilities in ice and snow storms.

“This widespread invasion creates problems for farmers, ranchers, or anyone managing acreage,” Byers said. “The invasive plants are very difficult to control. Mowing them, if you don’t pick up a thorn that will blow your tires, only creates more sprouts from the base.”

Girdling of mature trees can be an effective control. Herbicides can also be effective.

The Missouri Department of Conversation has additional information on this problem online at http://mdc.mo.gov/sites/default/files/resources/2012/05/callerypearinvasive.pdf.

More information on this topic is available online at http://extension.missouri.edu.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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