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Bradford Pear: Invasive Tree or Neighborhood Staple?

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A 10-year-old Bradford pear beginning to bloom in the Spring. The round conical shape is distinctive and helpful in identification.

A 10-year-old Bradford pear beginning to bloom in the Spring. The round conical shape is distinctive and helpful in identification.

What Is a Bradford Pear Tree?

Although this tree is commonly known as the Bradford pear (Pyrus Calleryana), it's actually named the Callery pear tree. It is a native species to Vietnam and China but has been planted in much of the United States, where it can be found in urban, suburban, and rural areas. It has been increasingly recognized as an invasive species of tree. Typical growth of the tree ranges from 16 to 24 feet.

The Bradford pear is showy and beautiful in the spring with bright white flowers, and in the autumn it displays a deep red color. The tree is very susceptible to damage from ice and wind due to its fast growth rate and will splinter, causing potential damage to property and total loss of the tree in many cases.

The Bradford pear has bright white springtime flower clusters.

The Bradford pear has bright white springtime flower clusters.

What Does a Bradford Pear Look Like?

  • Like just about all pear trees, the Bradford pear has broad flat leaves that are dull and smooth on the bottom and glossy on the top.
  • The flowers grow in clusters and contain five petals.
  • The fruit of the Bradford pear grows in clusters and is small and hard. They are not edible and can cause a mild stomach upset in humans. In the late fall, the fruit is softened by a cold weather and frost and becomes a food source for many birds.
  • The bark of the tree is shaggy around the base as the tree matures, but the limbs typically present a smooth bark texture. The tree becomes dense as it ages, and the larger it becomes, the more likely it is to sustain damage from wind and ice.

This Tree Is a Neighborhood Staple

There is no doubt that the Bradford pear is a neighborhood staple, and it is for good reason. Aside from its showy flowers in the spring, dense leaf-out in the summer, and its autumn beauty, this tree is known to do well in almost any soil. Additionally, the tree was introduced to the United States in the 1960s for many reasons:

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  • It is a cost-effective tree for landscapers to purchase.
  • The tree is hardy and transports well with few ill effects.
  • It grows quickly and is suitable for new construction projects.
  • The tree was promoted by Lady Bird Johnson, who planted the Bradford pear in downtown Washington, DC.
These are the rich fall colors of the Bradford pear.

These are the rich fall colors of the Bradford pear.

Is the Bradford Pear an Invasive Tree?

Why would the Bradford pear begin to be recognized as an invasive tree species? Typically, an invasive species is one that has been introduced into an area where it is not native. The invasive species then causes economic damage or environment damage.

The Bradford pear does not seem to be a problem economically, nor is it a noxious plant. However, the tree grows quickly and can create a very thick grove that out-competes other plant species. For this, the Bradford pear is considered invasive in the East and Midwest regions of the United States.

Another criticism of the tree is that the crotch of the tree has many upright branchings that help create its distinctive shape. This growth pattern makes the tree weak at the crotch. Also, although the flowers are beautiful, their fragrance is not very appealing and sometimes described as a fishy smell.

Since the tree is known to have some structural weaknesses, it can cause significant damage to vehicles, fences, decks, and roofs.

Bradford pear trees may suffer catastrophic damage from ice and wind.

Bradford pear trees may suffer catastrophic damage from ice and wind.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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