Redspire Pear Reconsidered

Everybody Loves it, But Is It Good?

Bees, squirrels and birds seem to love this tree.

On my post on Gilbert the Squirrel, I mentioned I have a Redspire Pear. Working with a tree farm, I can have any tree I want just about anytime I want it, so why put in a Bradford pear relative? Poor Gilbert lost his home last year as the pear swayed and whipped furiously in the wind.

Callery pears are notorious for suffering from wind damage. So much so that almost half of city reported wind damaged trees are pear, even if the percentage of those planted are small. Of course this depends on the trees planted in a city, like our Norway Maples here, but pears are a main call for cleanup.

The Callery pear is also not a native tree. It hails from Korea and China and was introduced to our culture sometime around 1908. The tree was produced as Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’ in 1919 and became available commercially in 1963. The Bradford pear was developed as a fruitless tree, but many ‘improved’ varieties have cross pollinated with the Bradford and subsequently produced pea to marble sized fruit.

Dining on the fruit in winter.

This becomes an issue when birds that dine on the fruit deposit the seed all over. The pear becomes an invasive, partially because it will survive soil conditions other trees cannot and it populates to displace natives that it out competes for habitat. The seedlings that develop from bird dispersal often differ from the selected cultivar with a less regular shape.

The pear shows up along roadsides and forest edges thanks to the birds. It is not reported as invasive everywhere though, so it may have something to do with locale. But the tree is a savior for hungry birds and squirrels in a lean winter.

The Callery holds onto its fruit much longer than other trees. The birds and squirrels may not favor the taste, but do dine on it if preferred foods are unavailable. The winter images show two of the birds that eat the fruit.

This tree became a darling of urban planners and landscape architects for many reasons, long before they realized the negative qualities.  It was preferred because they bloom early and profusely, have restricted growth in a pyramidal shape, grow in less than optimal soil conditions, have deep roots, and have magnificent and unusual fall color. (More on that in a minute.)

This tree is used in lawns, buffer strips, median plantings, as a small shade or specimen tree, and as a city street tree.  Because it tolerates pollution, compacted soils, restricted rooting areas, drought and heat, is it any wonder it was used so often?

It was also quickly found, after so many were planted in cities and home landscapes, that some of its weaknesses began to surface. It is not too hard to see, even from a layman’s perspective, that the shape and growth pattern of this tree is trouble waiting to happen. The tree’s physiology determine and physics dictate the inevitable. Throw in high wind and winter ice and you have a tree doomed to branch loss or worse, splitting in half to the ground.

Most of the time, you can easily spot trees that are damaged by their lopsided form. What causes the damage, like mentioned, is the plant’s form. The branching is generally too narrow and tightly formed.

The crotch angle is steep and the branches attach weakly to the trunk. The branching is very crowded overall and often, 6 to 8 branches emanate from a single point on the trunk.

Another common problem with the tree planted in cities and urban backyards, is the confined space in which they find themselves. The tight quarters only intensifies an odd smell when the trees start to bloom. Some describe it as a rank odor, but my experience is some years are worse than other. I rarely ever find it offensive outside unless you bury your nose in a bouquet of flowers. Bring them inside and expect the worse. In fact, you might be giving the dog a sideways glance thinking he threw up somewhere in the house; it is that bad.

Here brought inside but quickly taken back outside.

If I frightened you out of ever using this tree, there are other alternatives.  Cleveland Select and Chanticleer are ‘improved’ varieties to the Bradford with better branching, yet are still susceptible to the ravages of ice and wind. Here are a few more cultivars.

  • ‘Aristocrat’ (has wider branching and a wider crotch angle)
  • ‘Autumn Blaze’
  • ‘Bradford’ (Bradford Pear, the most commonly planted cultivar)
  • ‘Capital’
  • ‘Fauriei’
  • ‘Redspire’
  • ‘Whitehouse’

If you are not yet swayed to reject this tree, it really is a pretty tree all year-long; long past the showers of white flowers in spring.

It has a pretty silhouette dusted with snow in winter, and shiny, bright green leaves tinged in red in summer.

These Spring leaves are still a yellow-green, but will darken and get a bright shine.

The reddish berries are pretty in fall and as the season progresses the leaves turn multitudes of color.

The color is mostly yellow, orange, pink and scarlet, but can be tinged purple or bronze. The sampling below came from my Redspire last Fall. Note the color variation and depth of color. All were plucked from the tree at the same time.  In different years, this palette varies to include bright, clean reds and dusky purples.

If you are totally intimidated by the pear, try Cornus florida (having its own problems with the fungal disease, anthracnose) or Eastern Redbud, ‘Forest Pansy’ (which is a tree easily stressed and temperamental about environmental conditions). Always the good with the bad.  They are two smaller trees with lots of interest and they bloom white; plus they are native.

Pests of the pear include:

  • Aphids
  • Ash Fly
  • Scale
  • Shothole borer beetles

I have yet to experience any insect or disease damage to the Redspire.

I planted the Redspire for its fast growing of 35 to 45 feet, narrow form, its deep rooting and color all year-long. I was well aware of all the negatives, but when you want a tree next to paving and in tight quarters, it is hard to beat. It has not lifted the paving in over 16 years, it does not need trimming, no fertilizer besides a yearly mulching with compost, and it provides a place for the birds to roost and nest.

Leaf mold topdressing. The leaves of last year’s pear nourish the living tree.

It does have some annoying qualities. The leaves drop very late in fall, long after all the other trees are bare. It suckers quite a bit, and the squirrels clip off terminal twig buds all the time. It has never seeded itself in my yard, unlike the proliferate Norway Maples. They are not a long-lived tree, so that is possibly why the extensive suckering. Twenty five years is an average life span.

The tree having so much beauty all year and attracting various wildlife, is another reason it is planted right outside the bedroom door. The flowers are a bit larger than other varieties and are a welcome sight in Spring. Unfortunately, the flowers do not last long enough.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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21 Responses to Redspire Pear Reconsidered

  1. Kristin says:

    What great details on the Redspire Pear! I had never heard of this variety and found all of your info very interesting. What an amazing diversity of leaf coloring in the fall foliage. Awesome!

  2. Hanni says:

    Very pretty tree and you always have the most informative posts! I learn something every time I visit. I love the fall shot especially – looks like a cosy spot to have a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy the last few nice days of autumn.

  3. Greggo says:

    I believe chanticleer and cleveland select are one and the same. I got in the bradford fad in the early 80’s when they were planted in mass. 8-10 years later in tornado alley I would say 60-70% are gone. chanticleer/cleveland seem to be the tree of choice these days. I thought redspire was a deeply columnar variety. Maybe that was capital. anyways, nice post.

  4. Donna says:

    Interesting tree….it has good and not so good qualities…I was most astonished by the bad smell of the flowers…it is one of the main reasons I grow plants for the scent if there is any but to have a tree with offensive smelling flowers…hmmm…just can’t see the charm…the color of the leaves and the pretty flowers must make up for the short lived smell…as always a most detailed and delightful post..

  5. I love all the flowering fruit trees! They look amazing, and at the peak of bloom the whole neighborhood smells amazing!

  6. One says:

    I read the comments above and find mine totally out of place. Anyway, here it is, I love that bee shot in mid flight. A consideration for GGW entry for May?

    The colors of Autumn never fail to amaze me. Beautiful leaves arrangement.

  7. I feel kind of sad when I see callery pears all over our roadsides and fields… but that last photo of fall foliage almost convinces me otherwise.

  8. Wonderful post! Its funny i was only looking at these today at the nursery, thinking should I/shouldn’t I? They have such a gorgeous little blossom. I have to say seeing your pics and reading about how wonderful it has been year round for you, I think I am leaning towards the should I response…thank you!!

  9. Really informative post Donna, I like your balanced approach. I love the shape of the tree, and teh autumn colour is wonderful, but your description of the flower smell was enough to put me off! Plus I think I would rather try a pear that bore human-edilble fruit.

  10. lula says:

    The idea aof having fruit trees is one of my dream to have next year, when I will hopefully have a gardem and the more bees I can attrack the better, I will have in mind your post.!

  11. lifeshighway says:

    I did not know there were so many varieties of the ornamental pear therefore I call all of them Bradford pears. In central NC they are very much the darling of local landscapers (whichever variety they use).

    I too, liked the bee shot.

  12. I have two Bradford Pear trees in my backyard which are pretty wind protected from the surrounding trees in our neighborhood. They even withstood hurricane Ike with only comparable small damages. But I also can tell, they are usually not as wind resistant as other trees and small twigs break off quick. If I had planned them in my front yard, they would not have made it through Ike. even our Live Oak had suffered big damage but is recovering again and almost back to it’s old beauty.

  13. b-a-g says:

    Interesting post. Never heard of a tree growing so tall then dying so quickly. They must be difficult to remove.

  14. Karen says:

    Hello Donna, this is one tree we don’t grow. I’ve often thought about it, but just never got around to planting one. I was very surprised to learn the flowers aren’t deliciously fragrant; when you look at the tree you’d think it would be heavenly since it’s so beautiful in bloom. I had heard they were rather weak trees and we had a redbud that split right down the middle, so I guess we’d probably have just about the same luck with a pear, too. The photos you have posted make the tree look so tempting, though! Beautiful photography, Donna.

  15. dona says:

    What exhaustive report on the Redspire Pear! Very interesting!

  16. Ray says:

    Oh my, the first shot is amazing!

  17. Dear Donna, Your post is very thought inspiring, as usual. I tend to love trees that other people frown upon, like my “messy” catalpas. We didn’t plant many trees, but just enjoy what nature gave us. P x

  18. Kala says:

    Beautiful details in the images of the pear tree blossoms. Happy Macro Monday

  19. What an interesting post, I learned so much! Thanks for the visit.


  20. You certainly gave us the good, the bad, and the ugly. I knew about the bad except for the smell of the flowers. I don’t think I would ever want one of these trees, but yours is pretty. A small magnolia tree might also be a good substitute. I think the leaf collage was in one of the first posts I ever read on your blog. We “met” when I commented about it!

  21. Laurrie says:

    I too planted one of these, an ‘Aristocrat’, and I love it and hate it. It has the wonderful qualities of bloom and bird attraction and it fills the space I put it in nicely. But it has the liabilities you mention, and it is planted by the hundreds and hundreds in every yard, mall, urban park and street side all over our area. Too much of a nice thing…. waaaay too much.

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