Three reasons why you should cut down your Bradford pear trees
RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – An early spring staple and easy to spot: these puffy white Bradford pear trees. But once you get to know them, they’re easy to hate.
Some central Virginia garden centers, like Great Big Greenhouse and Cross Creek Nursery, don’t even carry them anymore. But they persist in our landscape.
1. The first thing wrong with a Bradford pear is its structure.
They have huge heavy limbs that all radiate from one point. This makes the tree exceptionally weak and prone to breakage once it matures. When high winds hit – or snow or ice – these trees come loose easily. That’s a lot of weight hanging down on a person, a car, a roof, or even a power line.
2. The second (and biggest) problem? They are invasive and spread.
Once you see the puffy white trees in early spring, you’ll see them everywhere. Originating in China, they have no threat here.
“They were released from their predators in the pathogens in their native range and brought to a place where they don’t have those predators or diseases so that their energy is released to grow and reproduce,” said said Kevin Heffernan, stewardship biologist at Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
And they are really good at reproducing.
Originally considered sterile, when Bradford pear blossoms are pollinated by bees, fruit production begins. It doesn’t look like a pear you buy at the grocery store, but native birds love sweet berries. Unfortunately, it is basically junk food and harms our songbird’s ability to migrate.
Heffernan says eating the pears “tends to weaken the species’ ability to get to their destinations. They should fill with fatter fruits of other species.
In addition, the birds scattered the trees far away. If you look along highways and in unmaintained areas, you will easily see the white trees. They are one of the first trees to flower in our landscape in early spring.
And once they start to go wild, they come back to their rootstock: a Callery pear. And this tree is mean. It forms a thicket, crowding out native trees and it has huge sharp thorns.
This makes it very difficult to remove once it occupies an area. Just ask Laura Greenleaf, she spends her days eliminating invasive species and teaching others about them, and she says this land, like many others across the state, is just not good.
“Ideally it would be a naturalized area of native flora. native tree shrubs and herbaceous layer,” she said.
Learn more about 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 methods. In South Carolina, there is even a bonus! If you send in a photo 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 bad. Almost everyone agrees on that.
Cut them down if you have them in your garden. Spring is a good time because you can easily spot them.
Laura Greenleaf and Kevin Heffernan gave me a great list of links that might be useful if you want to learn more about invasive species and how changes you make to your home can help our native species.
Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation:
- Smart Pollinators
- Invasive Plant Species (virginia.gov)
Virginia Native Plant Society (includes list of native plant nurseries and sales)
- Virginia Native Plant Society – Conserving Flowers and Wild Places (vnps.org)
PRISM Blue Ridge (Partnership for the regional management of invasive species). Although PRISM is based in a different region, many invasive species are also found statewide or common in the central foothills.
- Blue Ridge PRISM Inc – Invasive Species in the Northern Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia
Homegrown National Park – Tallamy’s Hub
- ABOUT US — HOMEGROWN NATIONAL PARK
There are also a few upcoming events to attend if you want to learn more:
- Saturday, April 30 at Dorey Park: Henrico County Native Plant Festival (keynote speaker Doug Tallamy)
- Saturday, May 7 at Richmond Public Library “Library Park”, Main Branch: Learn to Garden Day with members of the JRPS Invasive Plant Task Force and Richmond Master Gardeners
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