Photo and article by Donna Iverson
A Facebook post appeared recently on my news feed that said Ohio had banned the Bradford pear tree.
In case you are unfamiliar with this ornamental pear tree, it blooms in the spring with lots of white flowers. It has an attractive oval shape and is popular as both a landscape tree and a street tree.
At least it has been for the last few decades. But now scientists are taking another look. While the tree is attractive, disease resistant, and grows fast, there is a downside.
Seeds from the Bradford pear are spread by bird droppings and the offspring revert to the wild variety, called a callery pear. The wild pear is invasive, displacing native trees.
So far it has been banned in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, New York and Ohio. In Kentucky, if you cut down a Bradford pear tree, they will give you a free native tree to replace it. The timber can be used for firewood or donated to woodworkers with whom it is popular.
The story of how the Bradford pear came to America is a fascinating one. A native of China, the tree's seeds were first brought to America in 1908. They were collected by an Dutch emigrant named Frank Meyer. Meyer died at sea possibly by suicide, but his seed collection ended up in a test orchard in Oregon.
In the 1950s, the Bradford pear became popular as a street tree and was prized for growing in the poorest soil, with few pests or diseases and needing little care or watering. By the 1980s, scientists were warning of the Branford pear’s invasive nature but the warnings appeared in scientific journals that were not widely read. It wasn’t until the last decade, that the tide turned against the Bradford pear and states, one by one, began banning its sale.
Although sales of the Bradford pear have not been banned in Michigan, it might be wise to invest in native flowering spring trees like the dogwood, magnolia, cherry tree or redbud.