Bradford pear trees

Bradford pear trees put on a pleasing show in spring, but that plus doesn’t hold a candle to the tree’s many minuses.

It’s a rare occurrence when yours truly promotes the removal of any tree, but in the case of a Bradford pear I make an exception.

Blossoming now, the white blooms are a welcome sign that spring is coming. However, the Bradford pear is a Trojan horse, a disaster disguised as a beauty. If you have one in your lawn, cut it down. If your neighbor has one, take him a copy of this article.

Introduced as an ornamental in 1964 by the Department of Agriculture, North Carolina planted the ornamental pear along roadsides to beautify the area, never knowing the tree is worse than kudzu, a stinky scourge endangering other beloved species. At the time it was thought the Bradford was a sterile tree, incapable of procreating. However, they did know the tree was a time bomb of their own demise. For you see, Bradford pears (and Cleveland select varieties) live only 20-25 years before their “crotch branch” limb structures crack, split, and separate, falling willy-nilly to the ground with little or no warning.

Popular with landscapers because they were cheap and fast growers, the Bradford quickly found favor. Like many fine folk, I fell in love with the Bradfords, planting a row at the bottom of my property as a summertime barrier betwixt my neighbor’s dirt road and my mountain view. Planting my first tree in the 80s, we hadn’t yet truly learned about the short lifespan. But Extension Agent Jim Corbin, who I worked with at the time, was quick to explain.

Asking Jim why my Bradford had suddenly split in half, he responded, “gotta weak crotch.” After I collected myself, he further explained that Bradford’s steep V crotch branch structure becomes strained and cannot support heavy leaves and branches.

“Concrete’s the only remedy,” he explained. “Mix up a bag and pour it in the weak places. Otherwise, chop her down.”

The tree’s weak countenance is the least of our worries with respect to the Bradford. Because of cross pollination, pear trees have multiplied. Everywhere you look there are tiny trees sporting the telltale white spring blooms. Don’t be happy to see the blooms, you are actually witnessing an infestation.

Cross-pollinating with others, this hideous tree has now reverted back to the ancient Chinese callery pear, which forms a thicket of thorns that choke the life out of beloved natives like the sourwood and dogwood, who don’t dare grow among a thicket of Bradfords. Don’t get excited when you see Bradfords in bloom; Mother Nature is helpless and cannot protect other trees. But you can help. Cut them down, right?

If only it were that easy. Remember, the trees we find “growing wild” are covered with thick pointy thorns, making removal difficult. Even if a Bradford is cut to the ground, sprouts reform. We must be diligent against this enemy. Root removal is the only way to eradicate this blight, and we are seeing the N.C. Department of Transportation taking steps to remove the trees. There is hope, albeit it a sliver.

I’m shocked to find Bradford and other “ornamental” pear trees available for purchase at corporate big box stores. It depresses me to see a known invasive being sold to unsuspecting tree lovers. Please, I beg you, this year when you think about planting a tree, plant a maple, plant a dogwood, plant a redbud. Plant all three. Plant anything but an ornamental pear tree.

Renea Winchester is a tree lover and a Bradford pear tree loather. Firefly Southern Fiction will release her debut novel, “Outbound Train,” in 2020.