Bradford Pear’s fall from grace

Native to Asia, the Bradford pear, a cultivar of Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana), was introduced into the US in 1919 to be a tidy, thornless and sterile ornamental tree with a symmetrical shape and lush glossy foliage. Nurseries and homeowners loved them.

The past 100 years has shown that the Bradford pear cons far outweigh its pros. Not only does the Bradford pear have very weak branching angles that split off from the tree during storm events, the blossoms smell of fish and worst of all, it actually does produce invasive offspring when other varieties of Callery pear pollinate it.

These offspring have spread all along NC roadsides and into our forests, out competing our native trees. There are zero caterpillars which want to feed on these invasives so their very existence is creating a food desert for our spring birds who depend on caterpillars in the thousands to rear baby broods. While North Carolina doesn’t yet have a ban on Bradford pear, other states, like South Carolina and Ohio, have announced bans.

Ways you can identify these aggressors and distinguish them from our wild cherries: the pear descendants have thorns, their spring flowers are in clustered balls and stink, their leaves are rounded with scalloped margins and the bark is light with ridges. The wild cherries will have longer serrated leaves, smooth and sometimes flakey darker bark, flowers that don’t stink, and no thorns. Spring is the easiest time of year to note where the offspring are on your property, and you probably know if you have specimens of the original Bradford parent tree causing the problem.

The best course of action is to remove and replace them with a caterpillar and pollinator- supporting NC native. Consider oak, redbud, dogwood, persimmon, fringe tree, hickory. In the smaller shrub category choose from Fothergilla, Philadelphus, native deciduous azalea and more. You are spoilt for choice!

If all this has not incentivized you to take these aggressors out, keep a look out for Rutherford County’s Bradford Bounty! Successful events have already taken place in other counties and states.

This is how it will work: register at (pre-registration is required!), snap a photo of the pear tree alive, have the tree cut down (homeowner’s responsibility) and snap a photo of the fallen tree, bring photos to our swap event on Saturday October 28 in the former BiLo parking lot to pick up your choice of available native trees. (Swap ratio of one to one, up to 5 trees.)

Pre-registering is key!

If you have horticulture questions about this and other topics, here are ways to contact me: Laura Ponder, Extension Agent Horticulture for Rutherford County at NC Cooperative Extension Service, 193 Callahan-Koon Rd in Spindale. or telephone (828)287-6015

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