Everybody Loves it, But Is It Good?
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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:
- Ash Fly
- 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.
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.