By Andrew Freiden Published: Mar. 23, 2022 at 4:33 PM EDT
RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – They are a staple of early spring and easy to spot: those puffy white Bradford pear trees. But once you get to know them, they are easy to hate.
Some central Virginia garden centers, like the Great Big Greenhouse and Cross Creek Nursery, don’t even carry them anymore. But they carry on in our landscape.
1. The first thing that’s wrong with a Bradford pear is its structure.
They have huge heavy limbs that all radiate out from one point. That makes the tree exceptionally weak and prone to breakage once it matures. When high winds hit – or snow or ice – these trees come apart easily. That’s a lot of weight coming down on a person, car, roof, or even a power line.
2. The second (and biggest) problem? They are invasive and spreading.
Once you see the puffy white trees in early spring, you’ll see them everywhere. Originally from China, they don’t have any threats here.
“They’ve been liberated from their predators in pathogens in their native range and brought to a place where they don’t have these predators or diseases so their energy is freed up to grow and reproduce,” said Kevin Heffernan, a Stewardship Biologist at Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
And they are really good at reproducing.
Originally thought to be sterile, when Bradford pear blossoms get cross-pollinated by bees, fruit production begins. It doesn’t look like a pear you get at the grocery store, but native birds love the small, sugary fruit. Sadly, it’s basically junk food and hurts our songbird’s ability to migrate.
Heffernan says eating the pear fruits, “tend to debilitate species ability to get all the way to their destinations. They should be filling up with more fatty fruits from other species.”
Plus, the birds spread the trees far and wide. If you look alongside highways and in unmaintained areas, you’ll see the white trees easily. They are one of the first trees to bloom in our early spring landscape.
And once they start running wild, they revert to their rootstock: a Callery pear. And that tree is nasty. It forms a thicket, crowding out native trees and it has huge, sharp thorns.
That makes it very hard to remove once it takes over an area. Just ask Laura Greenleaf, she spends her days removing invasive species and teaching others about them, and she says this piece of land, like many others across the state, just isn’t right.
“Ideally, this would be a naturalized area of the native Flora. native trees shrubs and a herbaceous layer,” she said.
Here’s more on Laura’s efforts to remove Bradford Pears from Richmond’s Forest Hill Park.
And it’s not just us! Many other states are realizing the error of our planting ways. In South Carolina, there’s even a bounty! If you send a picture of a Bradford pear you cut down, they’ll give you a free native tree!
That hasn’t happened in Virginia, yet.
3. The third thing: they smell horrible.
Pretty much everyone agrees on that.
So cut them down if you have them in your yard. Spring is a great time because you can easily spot them.
Laura Greenleaf and Kevin Heffernan gave me a great list of links that might be helpful if you are interested in learning more about invasive species and how changes you make at your house can help our native species.
VA Department of Conservation & Recreation:
Virginia Native Plant Society (includes a list of native plant nurseries & sales)
Blue Ridge PRISM (Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management). While PRISM is based in a different region, many of the invasives are statewide or common to central piedmont as well.
Homegrown National Park – Tallamy’s Hub
There are also some upcoming events to attend if you’d like to learn more:
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