December 1, 2010

What Not to Plant

in April 2007
It's the first of the month, and time to confess a garden oops I have committed.  Joene sponsors Garden Oops: check out her site for more.

Like many untutored gardeners, I planted an ornamental pear. Oops.

I'm not sure what variety of Callery Pear I have.  We had a specimen planted five years ago, before I knew anything about trees and before I had heard of the problems with this tree.   I simply asked the landscaper to plant "one of those white flowering Bradford pears".  I did admire the flowers in spring.

But I soon found out about the limb breakage, short lifespan and potential invasiveness of Bradford Pears.  My Pyrus calleryana is not a 'Bradford' which was the original variety that demonstrated all the negative traits of this tree.  But I don't know what kind it is and the landscaper didn't know (he wasn't really a landscaper, whatever that signifies; he was a guy with a truck and a bobcat).

It doesn't look anything like the ubiquitous flowering pears that blanket our town center, are planted by the dozens at the mall, and that grace almost every single front yard around here.  The overplanted pear tree I see everywhere is narrowly pyramidal.  It has dense foliage that turns a beautiful deep gold and burgundy mix very, very late in fall, in late November, and into December.  I think most of them are 'Cleveland Select', a popular cultivar around here that is very narrow.

Here's a picture of my neighbor's young tree; they planted three at the same time mine was installed several years ago.  It's a popsicle on a stick, isn't it?  It will get golden yellow and red tinged leaves that are the last to offer any color after all others have fallen.

But as mine has grown it has become open branched and shaped very differently.  And it gets just some muddy yellow colored foliage in late November.

It might be 'Aristocrat'.  My research tells me that 'Aristocrat' is more horizontally branched, has wavy leaf margins, and some will show bronzy fall color rather than the deep wine or rich gold hues.  So I'm going with that.

The fruits are small and round, like a crabapple rather than pear shaped.  Every year the birds swoop in on a cloudy November day and strip the fruits all at once, all in a single day.  They don't touch this tree until that one day, when they arrive in a great noisy flock.  The branches are so full of frantic birds for about two hours, that you can't see the tree.  Then they leave and don't come back.  We actually look forward to the one day event each fall, it's so entertaining.  But it's worrisome.

The original Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford', introduced in the 1960s, did not produce viable seeds on its own.  But varieties were bred to overcome the weak branches, diseases and other problems of Bradford pears, and, with more cultivars out there, the Bradford pears started to cross pollinate.  'Bradford' and the new cultivars now produce seed.  And the birds distribute those seeds, as birds do.  Callery pear seedlings have been overcoming natural forests, becoming another invasive problem in some southern states.  Here's the bad news about them from

picture from MoBot file
My 'Aristocrat', if it is 'Aristocrat', has fruits, and the birds certainly eat them, with gusto.  I'd like to take my tree out.  But the problem is magnified by the vast tracts of these trees that are planted as suburban street and parking lot trees.  My neighbor on one side has three, my neighbor on the other side has one.  Every other house in our development has Callery pear trees planted.  The mall has dozens.  They are everywhere; will taking one out matter?

Yes, as a statement about what not to plant, but no, not in the future health of nearby forests.

I will leave it for now.  Callery pears have not invaded the woods this far north.  Yet.  Besides, I'm curious to see how it will look as it develops; it is such a different shape and color than all those swaths of Callery pears planted everywhere.

And there is no denying how pretty the spring blooms are for a brief time in late April.


  1. We all seem to have a few plantings that we later learn are or can become invasive. Mine is the ornamental grass miscanthus sinensis, which I now deadhead to prevent finding baby miscanthus in unwanted and unplanned locations. I also have a dwarf burning bush that, to my knowledge, has not self-sown but I plan to replace it anyway.

    Have you found any volunteer Bradford pears?

    Thanks for participating in the GOOPs meme.

  2. The only thing I don't like about ornamental pears is that the flowers STINK to me. My husband swears he can't smell it, but I hate the smell of most pear flowers. There's a new subdivision in Jacksonville that has a pear tree or 4 on every lawn. I like to go into that area to walk, because it has a long circular route. But I can't go in early spring...the smell drives me out!

    Beautiful fall leaf colour though, I will say that.

  3. Joene, I have not found any volunteers, but I do get a lot of suckers from the roots, which I clip off. Seedlings are a nuisance in the south I think; hopefully not up here.

    Kyna, I think it's the original Bradford cultivar that stinks to high heaven. Cleveland Select, which my neighbors have, and Aristocrat, which I think mine is, don't have any smell at all, thank goodness. I used to live in another house that had an original Bradford... eeewww. Just awful smelling for several days in spring!

  4. seems we all have a story or two about a plant purchase that turned out to be invasive. There's so many plants it's hard to know the characteristics of them all and the information changes constantly on plants that we thought we knew! (BTW, my oops was a Houttuynia cordata - chameleon plant)

  5. Marguerite, I've read about the incredibly aggressive houttuynia plant. Too bad you ended up with it!

  6. Laurrie, your tree is so pretty! We have as an invasive plant the ladybell bellflower with its deep thick roots. I think it was brought by homesteaders who just want to see something flower - G

  7. The 'Aristocrat' is supposed to be a much improved species of the Bradford pear, so I hope yours does well. Those lovely white blooms in the spring are certainly something to look forward to.

    I have had lots of "oops" moments, too, and planted some things I later regretted. Burning bushes are considered invasive here, but I love their deep red color in the fall, and so far they haven't produced any seedlings in my garden.

  8. I just got back from a visit to Maryland and it seemed like everyone with a landscaped yard had a Bradford Pear or a few clumps of Miscanthus. Sowing the seeds of the next invasion! My town in MA is still putting in Bradford Pears as street trees (mine is a stinky one). The growing conditions for a modern street tree are very tough, but it's a shame they can't find more native options.

  9. Gloria, thanks. Certainly no one intends to introduce invasive plants... it's only afterwards that we find out!

    Rose, I hope 'Aristocrat' really is an improvement.. mine is such an odd shape right now compared to others.

    Curtis, it's amazing how popular these trees are. Every nursery and box store here has vast inventories of Callery pear saplings and every new homeowner plants at least one.


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