Flowering pear trees: A pretty appearance hides an ecological nightmare
Believe it or not, you can help our local community by choosing not to plant flowering, non-edible pear trees on your property. These varieties–commonly known as Bradford, Cleveland Select and Aristrocrat–are cultivars of Callery pear, which comes from Asia. The trees have an oval silhouette and bear lovely white flowers in spring. However, their pretty appearance hides an ugly truth–they’re an ecological nightmare, at least here in North America.
The root of the problem
The original flowering pear trees were bred to be sterile, but the species was genetically altered enough to produce small, inedible fruit with viable seeds. Birds eat the fruit and disperse the seeds throughout our community, as evidenced by the invasions of flowering pear trees ditches, along rivers and in nature preserves.
So what’s the problem? The pear trees crowd out native hardwood species such as maples and oaks, and spread quickly. When pear trees pollinate among themselves, they revert to the Chinese Callery pear tree, with thorny thickets that grow quickly and are hard to eradicate.
A growing battle
Every year, Little River Wetlands Project staff and volunteers, elementary and high school groups, university students, church groups, and civic organizations work to remove thousands of this invasive tree species from our habitat restoration sites. In 2010, volunteers donated 1,200 hours to remove flowering pear trees from 16 acres of our now 831-acre Eagle Marsh. Every year since, we’ve invested at least the same level of time and effort, making this a major project for our small land trust. Other conservation organizations and agencies face the same situation, requiring a collective expense of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to remove these problem trees from natural areas.
Cultivating a solution
Plainly put, what you decide to plant in your yard matters. Please bypass flowering (Callery) pears when considering trees to plant on your property. Instead, consider a flowering crabapple or a native species such as serviceberry or redbud that will not only be a beautiful addition to your yard and provide a healthy food source for wildlife, but will live in harmony with other trees in the area. Share information about the invasive nature of flowering pear trees with those you know, and encourage nursery or store managers to not sell the trees in an effort to help protect our wildlife and natural areas. Many nurseries have already stopped selling ornamental pears, due to legislation to ban their sale and distribution.