Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Bradford Pear Tree--Beautiful but Problematic

It's that time of the year when the landscape begins to resemble a fairy wonderland. The magnificant blooms of the flowering cherries and plums, the tulip trees and the Bradford Pears are bursting into glorious bloom. It's a wonderous thing to be outdoors and drink up all the beauty.

The Bradford Pear (ornamental version of the Chinese callery pear tree) is everywhere. When it first came on the scene big time 25 or so years ago, it seemed everyone was planting it en masse because of its springtime beauty. The tree was supposed to be the perfect street tree with profuse early blooms, a restricted pyramidal shape and good fall color. Landscapers, urban planners and homeowners planted it until today it can be found almost everywhere.

There's no doubt the Bradford is a beautiful tree in full springtime bloom and the foliage is nice in the fall. I like its sweet spring smell, but many do not agree and find the scent quite noxious.

But the Bradford is susceptible to wind and ice damage. In fact, it's rare to see an old planting that doesn't have a substantial chunk of its limbs missing. After high winds, you can drive along streets and roadways and see Bradfords split and lying on the ground.

We originally had five trees and over the years have lost four of them to high wind. The one remaining had a hefty portion of it destroyed by wind a few years ago. It may just be a matter of time until the rest of it comes down during high winds.

My one remaining Bradford, just staring to bloom on 2/25/2012. It's now in full bloom.

Another really bad thing about the Bradford is the fact that it is becoming an invasive pest.The following is from The Grumpy Gardener blog by Steve Bender: "..... Bradford was supposed to be seedless and sterile. That's because its flowers can't pollinate themselves. All was hunky-dory, until the (U.S.) Arboretum and others starting releasing selections that didn't bust up in storms or get as huge as Bradford does (up to 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide). Then all of these callery pears started carousing and cross-pollinating, forming fruit and viable seed. Today, I guarantee that if you take a close look at the surroundings of any shopping centers planted with Bradfords, you will see thorny callery pear seedlings coming up like gangbusters."

Steve Bender's photo, taken in north Georgia, where Bradford pears have seeded so thickly, it's like a brier patch.

Some people still love them, and continue to plant them. But not me. I'll be replacing my lost trees with sturdier flowering cherry trees, dogwoods or any number of spring bloomers that don't have the problems the Bradford does.

What are your favorite trees? Have you planted Bradfords? Have you lost any of them to wind or ice? Do you like the smell or find it offensive? I'd love to hear from you. Leave me a comment below!


  1. Cannot comment on the Bradford Pear as I had never heard of it... it has beautiful flowers.

    I enjoy many trees' amongst my favourites are the Rowan an old tree which most cottage gardens had as it was said to protect the home.The graceful Willow,Black Mulberry,Magnolia which will be flowering soon,Ginkgo...gosh I could go onnnnnn!

    Do you have problems with rabbits & moles? Ida

    1. I am not familiary with the Rowan but will look it up. Love cottage gardens. Ginkgo, yes! We do have terrible problems with moles. They are ruining the lawn. Do you know a cure? Rabbits, too. They ate my lettuces and parsley in the fall vegetable garden. Where's Mr. McGregor when you need him?

  2. Love to look at the bradford pear trees blooming and also in the fall but have not planted any for the reasons you described. I do not like to smell them though,
    Beautiful pictures you have included.


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