Sunday, April 1, 2018 By: Ask A Master Gardener

Bradford Pear Trees are Very Invasive and Short Lived


White Flowering Bradford Pears Have a Dark Side

Brian Jervis: Ask a Master Gardener

Mar 31, 2018

Q: What are these beautiful trees I am seeing all over town with the white blossoms? TP
A: You are probably referring to the Bradford pear. While they are beautiful and quite popular, they have a dark side. But first, let’s talk about what they are and how they got here.
The Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana “Bradford”) was first introduced to the United States in the early 1900s as a way to help control fire blight of the common pear. By the ’80s, it had become the second-most popular tree in America, primarily as an ornamental tree.
The Bradford grows rapidly (12- to 15-foot increase in height over an 8- to 10-year period), to a height of 30 to 50 feet tall and 20-30 feet wide with a short to moderate life span of 15 to 25 years (less if we get an ice storm).
Most people are attracted to the Bradford Pear for its showy white flowers that appear in spring. The flowers are beautiful but, unfortunately, have an unpleasant fragrance. Early spring flowering can last two weeks, but late frosts may reduce bloom time.
Sounds like a great tree. Well, that’s what many of us thought until we got to know its dark side.
Although the Bradford pear was originally bred to be sterile and thornless, they easily cross-pollinate and produce fruit. These fruits are like tiny, hard apples, round, ½-inch in diameter, greenish-yellow flecked with whitish spots, inedible, with 2-4 black seeds. After it freezes in the fall, the fruit softens and becomes palatable to birds that help spread the tree.
Unfortunately, these offspring revert back to the thorny variety of their origin. They are not usually noticed until spring when we see them along the highways. These descendants are also quite invasive and tend to displace native plant communities, disrupting natural succession. All those white-blossomed trees you are seeing outside the fence line of the highway are likely the thorny offspring of the Bradford pear.
So, what do we do in response to what we now know about the Bradford? In spite of the fact that Bradford pear trees are well adapted for Oklahoma climatic conditions, just say no. There are a variety of other trees that work well in Oklahoma without the Bradford’s invasive side effects. They are also quite weak, making them poor choices to deal with Oklahoma winds and ice.
If you have a Bradford pear, you might need to consider replacing it, and if you are looking for a spring-flowering alternative, you should consider a redbud or dogwood tree. For more information on which types of trees do well in Tulsa, visit the Hot Topics section of our website, tulsamastergardeners.org, and download a copy of our info sheet: “Trees for Tulsa.”
Garden tips
  • Most bedding plants, summer-flowering bulbs, and annual flower seeds can be planted after danger of frost. This happens around mid-April in most of Oklahoma. Hold off mulching these crops until spring rains subside and soil temperatures warm up. Warm-season annuals should not be planted until soil temperatures are in the low 60s.
  • Don’t plant tomato sprouts too early. The soil temperature is key and should be above 60 degrees before planting. If the soil is too cool, the plants will sit there and not grow. Remove the blossoms from any tomato plant at the time of planting; it needs roots before making tomatoes.
  • You can find some wonderful tomatoes, herbs and flowers for your garden by shopping online during our plant pre-sale. This is the last week of the sale. Visit our website, tulsamastergardener.org, for information.


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