White flowers with yellow centers.  The Rise and Fall of the Bradford Pear.

The Rise and Fall of the Bradford Pear

Ornamental Pear was once the most sought after tree. The abundant white flowers, dark glossy foliage, and spectacular fall color made this tree undeniably desirable. In recent years, the Missouri Department of Conservation has been stringently working to alert people to the pitfalls of these pears. So what is all the alarm about? Find out why this one-time darling of street trees is now considered invasive and what you can plant instead.

About Ornamental Pear

Native to southeastern Asia, Pyrus calleryana, also known as Callery Pear, was introduced in the U.S. in 1917 with the intent to help increase disease resistance in common pear trees. Bradford Pear was created and became available commercially in the early 1960s.

Quickly becoming a homeowner favorite, Bradford became one of the most commonly used street trees.

Later found not to be disease resistant, Bradford Pear did prove to be tolerant of city and suburban stress. These fast-growing pears soon lined suburban neighborhoods everywhere.

Despite the beauty of Bradford Pear, homeowners and nurserymen alike quickly found out that its weakness was in the branching pattern and narrow crotch angles.

Pears were falling everywhere, but the demand was increasingly rising. As a result, plant breeders created new cultivars like Chanticleer and Aristocrat to eliminate this problem. In our haste to produce a better-structured tree, our mistake was quickly realized.

Are ornamental pears invasive?

The original cultivar, as well as the new cultivars, were considered sterile. Meaning they did not produce fruit and therefore did not produce seedlings.


However, the increased genetic diversity of multiple cultivars planted nearby resulted in cross-pollination. Dense thickets of trees quickly formed in unwanted areas as the small green fruit was eaten and spread by birds.

Small green fruit on ornamental pear with glossy green leaves.
Photo Courtesy James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org


The fallen Bradford trees also created a new problem. The sprouts that formed from unremoved stumps and broken trees were not sterile. These sprouts bloomed and allowed for cross-pollination with other Callery pear cultivars.

Why are ornamental pears bad?

They certainly seem unassuming along the roadways and the wood lines. One more, early flowering tree claiming winter is over. Yet, despite the dense foliage and floral abundance, wild Callery pear hide thorns and an aggressive growth habit that often overtakes our native habitat.

Branch of wild callery pear covered in large thorns.
Photo Courtesy Nancy Loewenstein, Auburn University, Bugwood.org

The removal of wild Callery pear is often arduous and costly. But, it’s a battle that the Missouri Department of Conservation is willing to take on. Let’s do our part by choosing better options for our landscapes.

Here are some great alternatives to ornamental pears.

Flowering Dogwood

White flowers on a dogwood tree with yellow-green bracts.
Photo Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

Cornus florida is a spectacular native substitution that also happens to be the state tree of Missouri. Cultivars of this elegant tree typically reach 15 to 30 feet tall and wide and perform best in full sun to partial shade.

Eastern Redbud ‘Royal White’

White flowers of whitebud covering branch.
Photo Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

Not to be outdone by its lavender siblings, this native beauty is noted for its pure white flowers, which make it the perfect substitution. Royal White will reach 15 to 25 feet tall and wide and performs best in full sun to partial shade.

Ornamental Cherry ‘Yoshino’

White flowers cover a Yoshino Cherry with a bright blue sky background.
Photo Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

Ornamental Cherries range in size from 15 feet to 40 feet, depending on the variety. They have white or pink blooms that can be in either single or double forms. 

Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) has fragrant white flowers in early spring. It is the predominant cherry tree planted in our nation’s capital. Expect Yoshino to reach 30 to 40 feet tall and wide. It performs best in full sun.

Serviceberry ‘Autumn Brilliance’

Star-shaped flowers cover brown branches on Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry
Photo Courtesy Missouri Botanical Garden

Autumn Brilliance (Amelanchier x grandiflora) is a cross between two native serviceberry species: Downy Serviceberry (A. arborea) and Allegheny Serviceberry (A. laevis). This spring bloomer is typically found in clump form, reaching 15 to 25 feet tall and wide. Known for more than just its lovely flowers, Autumn Brilliance produces edible berries and has brilliant orange-red fall color. Plant this serviceberry in full sun to partial shade.

Sources:

Missouri Department of Conservation

Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health

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