The curse of the Bradford Pear

By: Shannon Newton - Cooperative Extension

Bradford Pear was introduced as a beautiful, sterile blooming plant. It is one of many improved varieties of Callery Pear. Bradford has been planted extensively across the southeastern part of the United States because it was beautiful, easy to grow and appeared to have few problems.

After a few years in the landscape, homeowners, commercial landscapers and city urban foresters all began to see unexpected problems.

The beautiful shape of Bradford Pear is due to the angle branches are attached. Unfortunately, this tight angle allows branches to break off in thunder storms, rain storms and sometimes a process called “summer limb drop” occurs. Summer limb drop happens when it is hot, the plants are transpiring and limbs just break and fall off.

Another problem with the “improved” pear cultivars, is that they cross pollinate with ‘Bradford’ pear. ‘Bradford’ pear was originally introduced as a fruitless tree. Suddenly ‘Bradford’ and other pears began to produce large quantities of marble-size fruit. This fruit was carried, probably by birds, so that now hybrid Callery pears are showing up along roadsides and in forested areas where they will out compete and displace native species.

The wild pear not only spreads, but it has horrific thorns.

Lastly, these pears also spread by root suckers. If you cut down the tree and even grind the stumps, many ‘suckers’ will sprout. Sometimes, even with live trees, there will be sprouts coming from the roots. It takes determination and even herbicides to get rid of this invasive plant.

What can you do? First, try to get rid of any of the Bradford Pears that you might have. When you cut down either a planted or seeded tree, ‘paint’ the stump with a 50 % water, 50% glyphosate mixture. Paint it immediately, don’t wait even five minutes. This will allow the plant to soak up the glyphosate, killing the main trunk. Expect many sprouts to come up. They can come up a long way from the trunk of the tree. You will have to be persistent to get rid of this plant.

When you plant an ornamental tree, consider using native trees and shrubs. These plants will thrive in our community and not become invasive. For information on native plants visit plants.ces.ncsu.edu.

For information or if you have specific questions about plants in the landscape, garden or trees contact Shannon Newton, by email at [email protected] or by phone at 910-875-3461 in Hoke County or 910-277-2422 in Scotland County.

Shannon Newton

Cooperative Extension