“The extensive planting of just one exotic species removes thousands of native species.”
— “The Trees in My Forest” by Bernd Heinrich-Biologist and Author
Is there any place in the world where you can have an ice encased yard, trees with heavily laden limbs hanging limp to the ground, and flower foliage looking like, as Sam suggested, a cat made its bed of it? Days later sun shines brightly, daffodils emerge, roses leaf out, camellias bloom, Japanese magnolias and redbuds blossom. For those of us who reside in the sunny south we must live in the greatest place in the world or the craziest.
Few things can lift the spirits like nature as we kiss the chill of winter goodbye and make a mad dash into spring. For many of us it could not happen fast enough. Grasses are greening and the aroma of freshly mowed wild onions is just around the corner. The loropetalum whose branches hung heavy now reaches for the sky. Buds on the silver maple and the pear tree appear. Dandelions sprinkle smiley faces across the yard much to the enjoyment of the rabbits.
A small disclaimer here, don’t be surprised if spring has not arrived for good but has only made a quick appearance. Still, we can appreciate the preview. All around the Prairie and into Columbus, I’ve noticed the proliferation of a tree with bountiful white flowers. They come every spring in increasing numbers. On several occasions I’ve asked people what this tree could be? Some answered a wild pear, or a crabapple, or a plum. A few said a Bradford pear. I discounted the idea the tree was a Bradford pear for a couple of reasons. The first being the Bradford pear has a symmetrical shape. The trees I saw were definitely not symmetrical and seemed to grow randomly beside highways, in the woods, along farmland and the river, and in town. They are everywhere. Secondly, the Bradford pear is a cultivar.
In 1964 the U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced the Bradford pear as an ornamental tree. The tree was thought to be sterile. “Cultivars are plants that have been cultivated and bred by humans. Sterile cultivars of native plants are benign, they can’t cross-pollinate with their wild relatives, so they pose no risk to wild plant populations. When cultivars are beneficial to ecosystems, they are good.”
As beautiful as the Bradford pear is its reputation has fallen on hard times since being a landscape favorite. The tree is beautiful through three seasons, it was relatively inexpensive and grew fast and was not particular about soil. A few downsides are the blooms can emit a noxious smell; the tree can grow up to 30 feet tall while having a weak structure resulting in breakage; the tree typically has a lifespan of only 15 to 20 years. The tree is now labeled invasive. Several communities caution or prohibit planting Bradford pears because it turns out they can crossbreed and do so profligately choking out pines, redbuds, dogwoods, oaks, and hickories. The Bradford pear was crossbred with Chinese Callery pears which have large thorns capable of damaging tractor tires.
You’ve heard the saying “Pretty is as pretty does” but what the Bradford pear does is not pretty.