The Menace of Bradford Pear Trees: A Bounty for a Solution

In North Carolina, there’s a silent invasion happening in the forests. The offspring of Bradford pear trees, a highly invasive species, are spreading like wildfire, wreaking havoc on the native flora. But fear not, a daring new program is stepping up to combat this ecological menace in an unconventional way – by offering a trade!

Introducing the “Bradford Pear Bounty” program, an initiative that allows homeowners to exchange up to five Bradford pear trees on their property for five new and native trees. The program, set to launch in Greensboro on April 23, aims to raise awareness about the detrimental impact of these trees on the environment and encourage people to replace them with more sustainable alternatives.

Dr. Kelly Oten, an assistant professor of forestry and environmental resources at NC State, acknowledges that eradicating the Bradford pear entirely may be a Herculean task. However, the objective is to minimize the number of people planting them and promote the concept of responsible tree replacement. By doing so, they hope to prevent the proliferation of these invasive trees and create a healthier ecosystem.

Aside from emitting an unpleasant odor, Bradford pears pose a significant threat by crossbreeding with other pear tree varieties. This leads to the spread of invasive offspring that replace native trees and create “food deserts” for birds. These deserts deprive birds of essential caterpillars during the critical spring season when they need to feed their young.

To tackle this issue, NC State Extension, the North Carolina Forest Service, the North Carolina Urban Forest Council, and the North Carolina Wildlife Federation have joined forces with Dr. Oten’s program. This collaborative effort has received funding from various sources, including the Duke Energy Foundation.

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In a recent interview, Dr. Oten shed light on the origins and impact of the Bradford pear. The tree, originally introduced as an ornamental species from Asia in the early 20th century, quickly gained popularity due to its aesthetic appeal. Regrettably, the initial claims of sterility were debunked when it became evident that these trees could cross-pollinate with other varieties of pear trees, leading to the spread of invasive offspring.

The Bradford pear’s invasion is not limited to residential areas; it encroaches on natural forests and disturbs roadside locations. Oten has observed these invasive trees blooming everywhere in her travels, showcasing their adaptive prowess. Their extensive thorns not only make them a problematic species to manage, but they also pose a threat to tires.

In an ongoing research project at Clemson University, scientists are investigating the impact of the Callery pear invasion on insect ecosystems. Comparing forests invaded by the Callery pear to those that remain unaffected, researchers have already detected a visible difference, highlighting the long-term impact of this invasive species.

Apart from their invasive nature, Bradford pears are notorious for their unpalatable smell and brittle branches that easily succumb to mild storms. These factors, combined with their displacement of native trees, have compelled Ohio, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania to ban their sale and planting. Although North Carolina has not implemented a similar ban, they have restrictions on other problematic plant species.

Efforts to curb the spread of invasive species have proved successful to some extent, but the battle is ongoing. Invasives remain a persistent problem, requiring ongoing research and proactive measures to minimize their impact. To stay informed as a responsible consumer, towns often maintain “do not plant” lists, and master gardeners and extension agents are excellent sources of information. Exploring pollinator gardens with native plants offers practical insights into how these alternatives can enhance your landscape.

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If you’re interested in participating in the “Bradford Pear Bounty” program, you can sign up on their website, Ames Farm Center. Homeowners need to remove their Bradford pear and provide before-and-after pictures of the tree cut down. In return, they can choose up to five replacement trees, all native species. With a total of 200 trees available, residents across North Carolina can play an instrumental role in combating the invasion.

Dr. Oten emphasizes the importance of replacing the removed tree rather than simply removing it altogether. Urban canopies play a vital role in mitigating temperatures, reducing stormwater runoff, and enhancing overall well-being. Numerous studies have linked human health to the presence of urban trees, making their replacement crucial for a sustainable future.

Removing Bradford pear trees is similar to removing other landscape trees, as the planted variety lacks thorns. However, wild offspring, resulting from crossbreeding, present a more formidable challenge due to their thorny nature. Homeowners can choose to cut down the tree and treat the stump with herbicide to prevent regrowth or opt for stump grinding to clear the area for a new tree.

To ensure accurate identification and prevent the accidental removal of white cherry trees, Dr. Oten provides a few distinguishing features. The distinctive smell of the flowers is a key indicator, as pears emit a foul odor while cherries do not. Additionally, cherry leaves are longer, with tiny spikes on the margin, while pear leaves are more rounded with scalloped edges. The bark of cherry trees tends to be darker, either smooth and shiny or flaky, while pear bark is lighter, featuring shallow ridges. Lastly, the tree form of pears is more upright, with branches turning upwards at sharp angles, while cherries lack this upward angle.

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So, if you find yourself burdened with the invasive Bradford pear trees in your yard, seize this opportunity to make a positive change. Trade in these ecological invaders for new native trees, and let’s reclaim our forests one tree at a time!

Bradford Pear Trees

Images courtesy of Ames Farm Center.