A Thorny Issue

Bradford pears might be pretty, but their effect on local landscapes has been decidedly less so. Find out why it’s worth avoiding the flowering trees and what attractive alternatives make sense for 417-land.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this article was fact checked and accurate at press time, but 417 Magazine cannot guarantee its accuracy indefinitely.

Call it the law of unintended consequences. In the mid-20th century, an Asian import called the Bradford pear became a fixture in American gardens. Throughout 417-land, landscapers caught on soon after, planting the pretty ornamental pear trees—replete with lovely white blossoms, a pleasing symmetrical shape and rich fall color—in yards and landscaping around the region. But an ugly side of the pretty pears soon emerged. Not only were the blooms discovered to emit an unpleasant smell, but their weak trunks and branches broke easily in inclement weather, leaving behind stumps that reverted to a wild, thorny relative called the Callery pear. Scientists believe the Callery pears then cross-pollinated with their thought-to-be-sterile cousin. 

“With this cross-pollination, the seed was viable, and that’s what allowed them to escape and kind of become an invasive plant,” says Kelly McGowan, a regional horticulture educator with the University of Missouri Extension in Greene County. One of the tree’s originally appealing traits—its quick growing speed and versatility—became one of its most pernicious as it escaped cultivation. “Once we had these viable seeds that birds would start to spread around throughout wild areas, they also did well out in the wild, too,” McGowan says. In its wild variation, the Bradford pear began forming thorny, impenetrable thickets around the state, thus choking out benign native plants. “We don’t know when we introduce these plants what the adverse effects are going to be,” she says. “Nature is mystifying, and plants do strange things.” 
Although McGowan says that removing healthy Bradford pears from yards isn’t necessary, she encourages homeowners to replace them as they die out. “As they succumb to storms and things like that, our advice is not to plant another Bradford pear. Just go with another type of tree,” she says. 
When selecting a replacement, consider a native species, many of which offer the appealing traits for which the Bradford pear was originally prized. “My suggestion is always to go with native plants,” 
McGowan says. “They are tried and true for this area. They are not going to take over and they are not going to be invasive, so always try to go with natives whenever possible. Think about the right tree for the right place.” 


Edit ModuleShow Tags

More Articles Like This

Goat Yoga is Your New Favorite Workout

Our managing editor got bendy with some goats, and somehow among their bleats and bucks, her stress melted away.

Inside Bob Noble's Rivercliff Estate

Bob Noble's private Rivercliff property offers a secluded space for his invitees, but he's looking to a future when the Finley River views are open to the public.

5 Pound Pup is Your Dog’s New Favorite Brand

5 Pound Pup is an extension of 5 Pound Apparel that includes man’s best friend and gives back to the community.
Edit Module
Edit Module
Like us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Sign up for our newsletters Follow us on Instagram

Edit ModuleShow Tags

  1. Emerson Park, Local Men’s Grooming Line Transports with Scents
    Style is more than a look; it’s a feeling and an essence. And no one knows that better than...
  2. Fall Festivals: 25 Way to Celebrate Fall Fun in 417-land
    We’ve rounded up the most delightful, most bizarre and most timeless fests around to add to...
  3. 25 Barbecue Road Trips
    We drove in all directions to visit the best barbecue joints around. Dig in for the delicious...
  4. The World’s Hottest Peppers are Grown in Strafford
    Pam Shelburn and her husband, Bill, grow some of the world’s hottest peppers in their garden in...
  5. Republic’s Scuffed Edge Flea Market
    At Scuffed Edge in Republic, one creative maven shares her passion for refurbishing home decor.
Edit Module
Edit Module