Many people fall in love with the rich autumn color and spring blossoms of these popular trees . Yet, if a tree's assignment will be longer than 25 years, superficial beauty may not stand the test of time.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 14, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Perhaps the best way to choose any permanent tree is by knowing which trees not to plant. As with all choices, to make the best ones we need as much experience and information as possible on the negatives as well as the positives. Especially certain trees which are; familiar, available, affordable, and have notable seasonal interest. Usually those are good marks for any tree, however the esthetic curb appeal of a tree is surely not enough to tell from. The Bradford pearPyrus calleryana, certainly fits all of these criteria, however are those factors really enough to show how they will ultimatly perform? Maybe it's time to stop and evaluate some of their more obscure history. The Bradford Pear tree was introduced into the United States in 1963 by the USDA, having been planted here since after the turn of the last century. They are originally native to Korea and China. It is a fast growing tree that flowers early in spring before any leaves are born. Young trees hold their pyramidal shape fairly well, and compliment the front elevation of newer homes. Many people fall in love with the rich autumn color and spring blossoms of these popular trees . Yet, if a tree's assignment will be longer than 25 years, superficial beauty may not stand the test of time. When we bought this home in 1995, the landscape was donned with 5 of these trees, and at that time they were sufficient for shade being only ten years old or so. In spring they were abloom with pretty white flowers like those of a real pear tree, though their scent is nothing like real fruit blossoms at all. In autumn the leaves turn amazing colors of orange, red, and maroon, which are indeed very beautiful. A nice contrast with all the yellows and evergreens. Birds, (mainly grackles here) use them as nesting sites in spring because of their rapid and dense foliar coverage after the blooms have fallen. If only the wood were as dense as the foliage, they could have had some enduring quality to redeem them. In addition, to us, there is something very dubious about a fruit tree that bears no edible fruit. "What's up with that?"
After several years we began noticing the suckers coming up around three of them. These suckers grow very fast, and if they were left would make a small forest impossible to walk through without being injured, or without a machete! One of them took up almost a quarter of the back yard, and when we began to have more time and money to deal with it, the best solution was to it cut down. If this is done correctly, the whole tree would be removed, stump and all. The cost? Two hundred dollars, (and that's a good price)! The stump removal would be another $250! Last week we had only a small amount of rain one night, and woke up to the split tree across our front lawn.
Over time the Bradford has shown its true colors to us. Now we know several more things about this tree to be aware of... They split easily, they grow suckers, and they have a very shallow root system. As they grow taller, much stress is put on the lower and larger joints of the tree, which invariably causes splitting. The suckers grow almost as fast as the grass around them, and cannot be mowed without damaging a typical lawn mower. It is difficult to plant anything around them except grass, because when digging the holes for new plants a shallow root can be struck with every other hole. There are very few of these that make it to 30 years old without splitting. The split trees are beginning to line our street, a few at a time. Adding one more element to their negative proclivities. That is, the hazard of falling on something or someone.
The one in the back yard was cut down last fall, and the space is now dedicated to butterfly and wildlife plants with more purpose to give back life by providing a splendid natural habitat. Having the insights of excellent counsel through this very database you are reading from now, the choices for the new space came very easily. We were able to map out rows of beds across the back yard to add about 150 new plant species. The forums and PlantFiles here have given us a crystal clear look at some very effective choices. Plants that have truly supported their space. There is an alternative to being confined to the good opinion of a nursery's sales staff, (which is often biased to make a sale). Eventually we plan to use almost every available space with either a good native nectar or larval host plant. Superior choices being natives of both whenever possible. We have learned some great lessons about the initial selection of a tree. Had we known what we do now when we moved in, we would have replaced the Bradford pear trees then. When the trunks were only 6" in diameter.
The connections here in PlantFiles can give anyone more than enough information to make the perfect choice for a tree, that serves its space well. Often the plants needed and wanted the most can be found through other members who have enough to share by trade, or postage. Some of the plants we have acquired in this manner are very rare, and they would have been very difficult to obtain otherwise. There are many trees sold in commercial nurseries that follow the same trend of beauty versus benefit. However, 13 years later, as two out of five of these trees are gone, a new and valuable understanding has been gained. Likewise, the reason we felt a responsibility to share our short, and honest history about this beautiful tree.
Footnotes:  On every entry in the "plant files" there is a place for entering the overall opinion and experience with each plant, (positive, negative or neutral).  Information substantiated by Marc Montefusco Frederick County Master Gardener Program  Sucker -- A shoot which arises from an underground shoot or root of a plant.
About Deb Magnes
Debnes has been retired since her youngest of 4 was born. Now she has spent any spare moments researching every sort of life in the garden. Furthermore writing for about 10 years, on subjects of faith, plants, and wildlife, and it all revolves around the garden. In the process of pursuing several of her life's passions, she found some real treasures in practical every day life. It's where she confirmed that everything on earth, be it thought or matter, sows a seed.