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Why have the Bradford Pear trees been so much more vibrant and pungent this spring?

Cece Nunn
Bradford pear

A Bradford pear tree in bloom. (StarNews file photo)

Bradford pears have a reputation for their beauty, among other less desirable attributes.

“They’re usually pretty heavy bloomers in general,” said Ken Wells, New Hanover County extension agent. “That’s why people plant them and they like them so much.”

As to why they might be more vibrant and pungent this spring, Wells speculated that they might appear to be so because of the number of plants and trees that are blooming all at once in the area.

According to Southern Living’s Grumpy Gardener, also known as Steve Bender, “Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana Bradford) was born at the USDA Plant Introduction Station in 1963 and named for horticulturist F.C. Bradford.”

And while their flowers are beautiful, some people hate them because they stink. The smell has been compared to tuna and other things that don’t smell nice but which we don’t have to go into here. They also, as the Grumpy Gardener points out, can split in half easily once they reach 30 feet high because the tree’s “main limbs diverge from the trunk at a single point, so they’re very weakly attached,” he wrote.

The following is some more information on the trees from N.C. State University’s “Going Native: Urban Landscaping for Wildlife With Native Plants” website.

Common name: Callery ‘Bradford’ pear, Callery pear

Scientific Name: Pyrus calleryana

Identification: Callery ‘Bradford’ pear is a deciduous tree that may reach 60 feet in height and 20 to 30 feet wide. The tree has alternate, simple, ovate leaves approximately 3 inches long and 2 inches wide. The bark is usually light gray. Clusters of white flowers appear before leaves in April to May. Round, small, olive-brown fruits appear from May to July.

Ecology: Callery ‘Bradford’ pear originates from China and is widely used to landscape residential developments. However, this invasive tree is aggressive and will invade disturbed areas and displace native plant communities. Bradford Pear spreads by animal-dispersed seeds.

Plant control: As trees mature and start exhibiting splitting and other problems, consider replacing them in the home landscape. Cut down large trees with a chainsaw and treat outer 2 inches of cut surface of stump with undiluted glyphosate concentrate (53.8% is preferable). Large saplings can be treated in a similar fashion, taking care to treat the entire cut surface.

Alternative native species: American plum (Prunus americana), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) and Downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea).

User-contributed question by:
Steve Walters

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