March 15, 2021

When I came back from work yesterday, I noticed the pear tree planted in our front yard had exploded into bloom.  The entire tree was covered with showy white flowers.  I had been noticing the buds on the tree for several days but did not think anything about them.  I just knew the cold caused the tree to stop shedding its remaining berries that drop on our cars.  These are sticky and clump on the bottom of your shoe to be drug into the house.  I was glad to be rid of the berries, and pleasantly surprised by the intensity of the flowers.  Even those this is my third year in the house, I did not pay much attention to the yard plants until last year.  It makes a difference when you know what you are looking for.

When I looked online, I found that the Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’) is a spring-flowering tree that has been widely planted throughout the eastern US, especially over the last decades.  It is so popular that it can be found in nearly every city within its growing range and is the most common tree planted in South Carolina.  The Bradford grows 30 to 50 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide.  It has a wider, more erect, and branchier canopy than other trees of the species.  Early spring flowering may last two weeks unless caught by a late spring frost.  The species is a native of China, Taiwan, Japan, and Vietnam.  The flowers, unfortunately, have an unpleasant fragrance.  Melissa calls it our “stinky tree.”

The varieties of Pyrus calleryana are on the Invasive Plant Pest Species of South Carolina list.  Although the ‘Bradford’ pear was originally bred as sterile and thornless, they readily cross-pollinate with other cultivars of callery pears and subsequently produce viable fruit.  The ripened fruit is eaten and disseminated by birds, which results in thorny thickets of wild pear trees.  These escapees are generally unnoticed until spring when the edges of fields, abandoned lots, and forests are white with blooms.  Unlike the Bradford, most callery pears have thorns ranging from ¼-inch to over 2-inches long.  The thorns are known to cause extensive damage to equipment as land managers try to remove them from their property.  The Clemson Cooperative Extension site recommends planting native white-flowering trees rather than the invasive Bradford.

Thoughts:  As is the case with most invasive species, the Bradford pear was specifically brought to the eastern US because of its rapid growth and beautiful flowering.  The resulting cross-pollination brought unforeseen consequences and the species are now not only invasive but considered a pest.  The Asian carp presents a similar problem.  It was brought to the US because of its rapid growth and reproduction.  When flooding allowed the carp to escape their containment ponds it has gone on to dominate much of the Mississippi River system, decimating native species of fish.  We need to realize that when we transplant species from one location to another, they rarely have any of the natural checks found in their natural environments.  The same could be said for covid-19.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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