Spring is once again revealing the huge numbers of Bradford Pears (Pyrus calleryana) in our part of North Carolina. They are beautiful…and they are everywhere. Could one conclude that they may have been overplanted? It’s easy to understand why: snow white blossoms in spring, majestic form, striking fall foliage, and fast growing. Who wouldn’t want that?
Once again, however, we must face the Law of Unintended Consequences. What was intended to be the introduction in the 60’s of a worthy landscaping gem is turning out to have a dark side. Many have planted Bradford Pears which have come to an unhappy (and expensive) end. They bloom early, often before the last frost, and can be hard hit by a late winter ice storm. They hold their leaves late in the fall and are thus vulnerable to early icing. I have seen them lose several limbs in high winds and an entire canopy in heavy ice. At about fifteen years they become increasingly susceptible to wind and ice damage.
I am starting to notice Bradford Pears blooming in fields and at the forest edge. They clearly have developed an invasive habit in this local ecosystem.
Many of my friends have Bradford Pears. They inherited them when they bought their property or planted them without knowing the potential dark side. A few years ago we experienced an early and extremely severe ice storm. Many trees were downed; I lost a loblolly pine. My neighbor’s still leaf laden Bradford Pear lost six or seven main branches. He was faced with a hard question: what do you do with half a tree in your front yard?
He was (half) lucky; at the entrance to our community we were left with just a tall stump.