The Bradford Pear Tree… the Pit Bull of Pear Trees…

The Bradford Pear Tree today…
Bradford Pear Tree in my Front Yard FULL BLOOM

A neighbor recently told me that the Bradford Pear Tree in my front yard now for 12 years is an “environmental hazard”.

“I saw news stories,” she tells me.  “They are an environmental catastrophe and you need to cut your tree down.”

“I saw it on the News last night.”

BPTfullbloom 17by9
Bradford Pear Tree in my Front Yard Full Bloom

The story she refers to is a very brief story she saw on WRCB Channel 3 news.  You can read the story and watch a video here:

Bradford Pear Trees terrible for Ecosystem…

Another View of Bradford Pear Tree in my Front Yard Full Bloom

There are numerous other stories that malign the Bradford Pear Tree.  Much like the numerous stories from years ago that maligned the Pit Bull dog breed. The WRCB Story makes 5 basic ASSERTIONS as do the other stories on the internet you can read and videos you can watch about the Bradford Pear Tree with equally inflammatory headlines.

Bradford Pear Tree in Winter

The 5 assertions made follow:

  1. Weak Branch Structure, especially when they get tall and many can grow to be 50 feet.

  2. Short Life Span- 15 to 25 years.

  3. The blooms smell.

  4. Nothing will grow under the tree… no grass.

  5. Environmental disaster (Invasive Pest) because they cross pollinate.

Bradford Pear Tree with Snow on the Branches

What is interesting about each story and the one Theme all the stories have in common is there is very little evidence provided to support the assertions, especially assertion number 5.

I’ve known for some time that the trees have weak branch structure… the older tree in my yard has been splitting for years and I recently had it topped.  The tree was more than 35 feet tall.  The younger tree is about 7 years old and isn’t an issue at this point…and is actually growing pretty much like a normal tree.  As the tree ages that may change.

As I read the stories about the Bradford Pear Tree, the Pit Bull Dog kept coming to mind. There was a time when the Pit Bull was considered by MOST to be a dangerous invasive breed of dog.  Fit only for fighting other dogs and killing young children.

There’s no doubting the contentious divide in perceptions of pit bulls across the globe. To some, these dogs are considered dangerous killers who should be banned outright, whereas others view them as misunderstood victims of breed discrimination.

But over time the reality of the breed began to surface and the actual villain isn’t the Pit Bull but the HUMAN who created the “dangerous killer” because of human failure, ignorance and bad information.

So I began looking for evidence to support the 5 assertions.  I didn’t have to go far for evidence to support the first assertion.  I had to prune back the 12 year old tree because of the weak branch structure a few years ago.  The tree probably won’t survive more than a few years.  I’m sure that is evidence that the life span is only 15 to 25 years.  I would be willing to bet that the short life span is due partially to the fact that the trees aren’t maintained and pruned properly and split and limbs break and have to be removed so the owner cuts them down.  A well maintained and pruned tree might live longer…?  The 12 year old tree has bloomed every year except this year.  A huge canopy of blooms and I never noticed any foul odor that is described by some people.  The small tree blooms and I’ve never noticed any odor over the 7 year life span of the tree.

The assertion that nothing will grow underneath the trees hasn’t held with the 2 trees in my yard.  I have shrubs and other plants growing.  I do spread baled pine needles in my front yard.  Grass isn’t of primary importance to me… if grass doesn’t grow under the tree may be the lack of sunshine… but that isn’t an issue for me.  If grass is important to you, then don’t plant the tree.  However, grass is growing in my neighbor’s yard that is under the influence of the shade of the tree…

The 5th assertion I found most interesting and damning.  There are only a few pear trees that can self pollinate; the Bradford isn’t self pollinating.  Most require cross pollination before the tree can bear fruit.  The Bradford Pear Tree was thought to be sterile and wouldn’t bear fruit.  Well, someone apparently made a mistake and it wasn’t the tree.  I will say that NEITHER the 12 year old tree or the 7 year old tree in my front yard have born fruit.  WHY?

I do know this:  the conditions necessary to have a pear tree bear fruit are:

1. a pollinator that is compatible with the variety of pear tree (there are charts that identify compatible pollinators),

2. the trees have to be within a 100 to 200 feet of each other and ideally within 20 feet for optimal chance of pollination… the chances diminish the further apart the two trees are…

According to Dwayne Elmore, OSU Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist and Bollenbach Chair in Wildlife Biology, the Bradford Pear Tree isn’t a wind pollinated pear tree, but an insect pollinated pear tree and the insects responsible for this task are never identified.  The compatible trees also have to bloom at the same time.  So tree A and tree B have to be in bloom at the same time, within 100 feet of each other (ideally 20 feet) and have a pollinating insect that pollinate the trees.  If the Bradford Pear tree is pollinated and bears fruit, which is then eaten by a bird and the bird poops down the street, and Bradford pear tree may grow… a lot of ifs… don’t you think…?

In Oklahoma, the biggest issue is the Bradford Pear Tree pollinates with a compatible Pear Tree, bears fruit which is eaten by birds and Wild Bradford Pear trees with vicious thorns grow from the seed left by the bird droppings.  This event is the “environmental disaster” that is occurring.  Is this happening in Chattanooga? I haven’t seen any evidence that a large number of Wild Bradford Pear trees are growing in Chattanooga neighborhoods, if any are growing.

I think the Bradford Tree has a misrepresented reputation (read story by Brianna Bailey in The Oklahoman).  Reminds me of the Pit Bull several years ago.  The Pit Bull had a reputation of being a dangerous and mean dog.  But as we got to know the breed, it really was the owner who was “dangerous and mean” and not the dog.  The Pit Bull if treated humanely is a gentle and friendly dog.

Would be nice if you or someone else actually did a real journalistic story on the Bradford Pear Tree and not a FLUFF story like the WRCB story. I don’t think the tree is the demon portrayed by many corn ball hack stories.  It would be nice to know what the REAL story is of Bradford Pear Tree and not just the inflammatory headlines e.g.…

Your website headline:

The troubles with the Bradford pear trees that are everywhere

I don’t think you explained fully.  The Bradford Pear Tree is like the Pit Bull… a misrepresented reputation and if explored fully that reputation could be, like the Pit Bull softened…

I’m sure there are issues with the Bradford Pear Tree in some areas of the country.  Sales of Bradford Pear Trees are banned in many areas of the country.  And the beautiful white blooms that greet spring may never be seen again.


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