The Bizarre Reason to Cut Down Your Bradford Pear Tree

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Why you should cut down these trees right now
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When I started blogging many years ago and began chronicling my experiences making homemade deodorant and other sundries, I never thought I’d write a passionate post about why you should immediately cut down any Bradford Pear trees… but here we are.

Cut Down the Bradford Pear Tree?

I know that is a strong statement:

Go cut down any Bradford Pear Trees you have right now and never plant another one!

But why? They are so pretty with their gorgeous white flowers. Sure, they smell something fierce when they bloom, but they are so pretty!

You know what else is pretty? Dingo puppies:

Why these cute little dingos are a reason to cut down Bradford Pear Trees

and Mountain Laurel flowers:

Why mountain laurel flowers are a reason to cut down your bradford pear trees

But both of those can kill you. Those cute little wild puppies will bite your throat when they grow up. Those delicate little flowers can drop your blood pressure low enough to kill you.

Just being pretty doesn’t mean something is good or beneficial and while the harmless-looking Bradford Pear Tree may not bite your throat like a Dingo or lower your blood pressure dangerously like the Mountain Laurel, it is certainly problematic in its own way. In fact, they’ve even been called an environmental disaster.

Here’s why:

Where Did Bradford Pear Trees Come From?

To understand why these trees are a problem, you have to understand where they came from.

The Bradford Pear Tree originated in China and were introduced in 1964 by the US Department of Agriculture as an ornamental tree. This flowering tree was assumed to be sterile (spoiler alert- it isn’t!) and was known for its weak branch structure. They have a lifespan of only 20-25 years, as anyone who has seen these trees in an ice storm can attest.

Now, normally, if you wanted to plant a weak and sterile tree in your yard, that wouldn’t bother me at all… so why do I hate the Bradford Pear so much? (and why am I even bothering to write about this tree in the first place?)

Here’s why:

Why Bradford Pears are Dangerous?

It turns out, they aren’t sterile as it was assumed.

Sure, they don’t pollinate among themselves, but these promiscuous and stinky little trees like to pollinate with EVERYTHING else out there.

This leads to some major environmental problems:

Because of the cross pollination problem, pear trees have now proliferated exponentially across our environment. And, to make matters worse, the evil offspring has reverted to the ancient Chinese Callery pears which form impenetrable thorny thickets that choke the life out of pines, dogwoods, maples, redbuds, oaks, hickories, etc.

When you see those fields of white flowering trees, please don’t get giddy with excitement over pretty white flowers. What you are looking at are Callery pears destroying nature. Callery pears have 4 inch thorns. They can’t be mowed down. Those thorns will shred John Deere tractor tires. They can only be removed by steel tracked dozers, decreasing the value of agricultural or forest land to the tune of $3,000 per acre. (source)

Did You Catch That?

They may not be hurting your yard, but they are causing major damage for farmers and choking out beautiful (and valuable) hardwood trees. Which is why I’m writing about this topic today. In fact, all reputable nurseries know about the problems with these trees. Good landscapers refuse to plant them.

I’ve been on hikes and encountered these Callery pears and their 4-inch thorns myself and they aren’t nice.

Those pretty little white trees in your yard are cross pollinating and causing these problems all over.

We brought these trees over thinking they wouldn’t reproduce and now they are doing just that and taking over native species. We tampered with nature and like the Kudzu taking over the South or the Burmese Pythons taking over the Everglades and eating alligators, we created a big problem.

Let’s try to fix this one. Cut them down… now!

Other Problems with Breadford Pears

Not only are these trees causing serious damage to native plants and shredding tractor tires, but they come with other problems as well.

Structurally weak:

Bradford Pear trees are structurally weak. Many people love them because they are perfectly symmetrical and grow in a beautiful shape. They even maintain this gorgeous shape for about 2 months until rain, snow or even a mild breeze causes them to break in half.

Seriously… they have a lifespan of only about 20 years and will usually die as a result of ice, snow or even rain making their branches too heavy.

We’ve all seen these trees cracked in half after a storm. Why plant a tree that will just be a mess to clean in the yard in a few years?

Prevent grass from growing:

Grass has trouble growing underneath Bradford Pear trees and often the area under these trees is bare and muddy.

Get too big:

These were supposed to be small, ornamental trees that only grow 25 feet tall and equally wide. Unfortunately, no one informed the trees themselves, as they sometimes get twice as big and overtake the small yards they are planted in.

And they stink:

As an irrelevant side note, they also smell really, really bad. Their smell has been compared to various foul smells including rotting fish (as well as a couple other smells I’ll avoid listing for the sake of any younger readers). Do you really want that in your yard?

Does the Bradford Pear Tree Produce Fruit?

Now, all of those negatives could potentially be less of a problem if the tree at least did something beneficial, like produce fruit that you could eat.

But it doesn’t.

It was originally created to be sterile and so produces no fruit. Instead, it cross pollinates with other species and creates all kinds of problems.

How to Cut Them Down

I’ve seen anti-Bradford Pear campaigns from various cities around the country encouraging people to cut these trees down. Some cities, like Pittsburgh, have gone so far as to ban them completely.

If you are considering planting trees in your yard, please choose other options. If you already have some of these in your yard, consider cutting them down and replacing with something less harmful.

Unfortunately, this won’t be the easiest tree to eliminate. Cutting it down is the first step, but getting rid of it completely requires some extra effort. Now is a great time of year to do this before they bloom in the spring and Fall is a great time to plant new trees.

Here’s What to Do

  1. Cut down the tree.
  2. Grind out the root.
  3. Prepare for battle: These trees don’t give up easily and they will send out hundreds of suckers, or shoots, from the roots for up to two years after you cut it down until the roots finally give up and die.
  4. During this time, you can do things like: drill holes in the root and pack salt into it (this will help a little).
  5. Mow often so the sprouts can’t get big or go to seed.
  6. If grass isn’t growing anyway, consider covering with black plastic to choke out the roots and then re-seeding once the roots are gone.
  7. Replace the stinky Bradford Pear tree with a beneficial and equally beautiful tree (suggestions below).

Alternatives to the Bradford Pear Tree

Thankfully, these are dozens of better alternatives that you can plant in your yard. Choose alternatives based on your needs:

  • Shade: Plant bigger trees that will create shade as they grow. Maples and Oaks are good options.
  • Flowers: Try Redbuds, Serviceberry or Carolina Silverbell.
  • Looks: Consider Japanese Maples or Peggy Clark Maples.
  • Food: Or, plant a tree that actually produces something useful, like an apple, peach, or cherry tree.

Your yard and our native species of plants will thank you!

Do you have any of these trees? Did you know about the terrible effects of them?

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

91 responses to “The Bizarre Reason to Cut Down Your Bradford Pear Tree”

  1. Carrie Avatar

    Bradford and callery pear trees are not the same. A true BP does not have thorns and definitely does not stink. You do need to keep them trimmed because they will fall apart on you in a good storm.

  2. Joel Campbell Avatar
    Joel Campbell

    I think this is a gross exaggeration. They are relatively harmless trees and the wood is very dense and quit useful for making all kinds of things or even for use as firewood as it is a hardwood. For those lucky enough to have them on their property and interested in fruit production, the real value is as a rootstock for eating pears. They are resistant to fireblight and quit vigorous. When grafted with fruiting pear wood or even apple they can be civilized into fruit trees. When I see one of these trees I see a fruit tree in the rough.

    https://elizapples.com/2021/03/29/in-defense-of-bradford-pear/

  3. Greg Beyer Avatar
    Greg Beyer

    The biggest negative to BP’s is that they contribute ZERO to the food web. They are a nutritional desert. BPs are exotic, hence native insects have no affinity for eating their leaves, and producing caterpillars that birds MUST have to feed their young. Birds do not feed mature, hard carapaced bugs to the young. They need soft wormy things. OTOH, _native_ oaks, maples, poplars feed hundreds of species of bugs that have evolved together with the native trees over eons to eat their leaves. More caterpillars means more food for mom and dad bird to bring to the nest, from shorter distance with less energy burned h to BP’s is that they contribute ZERO to the food web. They are a nutritional desert. BPs are exotic, hence native insects have no affinity for eating their leaves, and producing caterpillars that birds MUST have to feed their young. Birds do not feed mature, hard carapaced bugs to the young. They need soft wormy things. OTOH, _native_ oaks, maples, poplars feed hundreds of species of bugs that have evolved together with the native trees over eons to eat their leaves. More caterpillars means more food for mom and dad bird to bring to the nest, from shorter distance with less energy burned hunting. Bird populations are in great decline, for a variety of reasons. Don’t be a part of the problem by keeping, worse, planting exotics. Learn about natives that support the food web and plant them.

    Doug Tallamy is a wonderful authority on the importance of natives, snd the dangers of exotics (Bradford Pears for example) Read his sites, blog posts and books.

    https://homegrownnationalpark.org/tallamys-hub-1

  4. Diane Davis Avatar
    Diane Davis

    I think the actual Bradford Pear Trees don’t have thorns, but whatever they might be cross-pollinated with might sprout as a hybridized Bradford pear mix, and that would be what would grow thorns. I have never seen this, however. Our trees were pruned to remove some vertical branches, with the more horizontal branches left to grow more sideways, so the trees ended up a little stronger. They are beautiful and host really massive flocks of choruses of birds. Squirrels build their nests in them, there is no odor, and very few “crab-pears.” We will be replacing them with River Birch, Redbud, shrubs like varieties of viburnum, magnolia, and some (undetermined yet) kind of evergreen….. One unknown is— do they cross-pollinate with other flowering fruit trees, such as native plum, and cause problems? I know that almond, plum, rose, pear, apricot, might all be in the same family, but I am NOT an expert, so the extent of cross-pollination is a big question, a big unknown, a potential hazard.

  5. L Scura Avatar

    I’m with you with the Bradford Callary Pears. I’d hoped the tree that came with my home was something I could keep because it provided a good amount of shade. But if you’ve seen one of these split down the middle, which I found many instances of on the web, you might be wary of having one within 20 feet of your home. I also discovered over time that there were indeed a lot of baby trees growing from it. What a lot of work weeding those out. Then I found some with the thorns! If you let them grow big enough you’ll find the thorns. OUCH. My gloves did not help.

    I recently had it taken down and wanting to somehow put the tree to good use, so I kept the mulch. It made a huge pile and I will appreciate the good soil amendment, as my soil is both rocky and clay…

    These trees are beautiful in the right setting, driving along a scenic country road when they in bloom is really pretty. But now I think of the harm those offspring do to farmers. And when I’m ready to plant again, it’s going to be service berry and other native trees that will aid the wildlife.

  6. Mitzy Hall Avatar
    Mitzy Hall

    For 3 years I have been trying to kill the “Callery Pear” which has 4″ thorns. I bought 40 acres which was infested with these trees and they are hard to kill. I had no idea about their thorns. You cant mow or use anything with tires as they will puncture them. Most people around me want to call them locust when I describe the thorns. But they are the second generation of Bradford pears. I contacted the University of Tennessee years ago about them and they told me they were the second generation Bradford pears. They also said they were steril until around 2000 when they started reproducing with native trees. Anyone wanting pointers on eradicating them is welcome to contact me. It is a long and expensive process.
    My neighbors that have the bradford pears do not understand their implication when the fruit is eaten and spread by the birds. But they are experiencing the breaking of the limbs. I so which Tennessee would ban these like South Carolina.
    For those that do not believe they will grow with thorns should research them.
    https://hgic.clemson.edu/bradford-callery-pear/
    https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/callery-pear-bradford-pear

  7. Guy Avatar

    We had a 14 year old Bradford pear commit suicide this summer. The remnant stump/roots have already started sending up shoots, and it’s now become my battle to dig up the stump. Luckily it has shallow and brittle roots.
    I have another one, I’m assuming it isn’t going to be too long before it does the same thing.
    Planting a Little Gem Magnolia in it’s place.

  8. Mike Avatar

    Really?!?!? Bradford pear trees are the biggest problem facing the world today?!?
    Southern Pine trees are just as brittle, and cause more damage annually than the pears.
    Find a real cause that is important….

  9. Mer Avatar

    I’m late to this blog, but still wanted to add something. Here is SC, Clemson Agricultural department was even adding a bounty for cutting them down. If you show proof you took one out, they will give you a new free tree. That’s how badly they want to get rid of this type of tree. Also, because they are pest resistant, they can endanger birds as they take over an area. Bugs are needed for birds to survive (they are food.) So a cluster of trees without bugs is a bad thing for our feathered friends.

  10. John Avatar

    So many people with reading comprehension problems in these comments. Perhaps if you weren’t so triggered into writing in defense of your pear tree (MY Bradford Pear doesn’t have any thorns!! ) then you might realize it’s not the Bradford Pear that has thorns, but the cross pollinated hybrid offspring it produces. Just because you can’t see your pear tree mating every spring with those precious white blooms, doesn’t mean it isn’t producing wild children in the natural habitats of your area. I encourage you, yes please ask your extension agent or forester. You might be humbled to find that you are in the wrong in it’s defense.

  11. Jon Avatar

    I’d love to know if there are other kinds of pear trees that do fruit and/or are not such a problem?

  12. Suzanne Avatar

    We don’t have Bradford Pears but our neighbors do. A couple years ago my husband noticed the trunk of our weeping cherry tree looked strange. He kept an eye on it & the tree seemed to be healthy so he didn’t think much about it. A new branch began growing out the front of the weeping cherry. This spring the new branch bloomed white flowers instead of the usual pink ones. I started looking at it closely and noticed this one branch split into two branches growing straight up; not the normal umbrella shape of the original tree. I had read articles about Bradford Pears like yours before and those came to mind. It was a Bradford pear that was growing out of our lovely weeping cherry tree. Ugh!
    In your opinion, will it harm our weeping cherry to cut the Bradford pear branch growing out of the front? It’s a large branch; probably at least a circumference of 4 inches or more. My husband thinks it will invite diseases into the weeping cherry, but I also fear as time goes by, the bradford pear will take over the cherry tree….

  13. Steve Avatar

    Clevelands purportedly have some better qualities than Bradfords, but they are still callery pears and an invasive species. Please do not plant them.

    1. Ronni Molloy Avatar
      Ronni Molloy

      My pear tree has fruit. I can’t eat it but birds can, which is why my landscaper planted it. Because I like birds. Robins, mockingbirds, catbirds, waxwings and other birds love the little pears. I’ve never smelled any bad aroma from the tree. In fact, the white flowers smell sweet in spring and orioles love the nectar from the flowers. Bees also like the flowers, as they give nectar before a lot of other nectar bearing plants have bloomed in spring. I love watching all the life attracted by the tree. We don’t have woods around here anymore – the rich moved in & decided their mansions needed to be on acres & acres of sod, which they keep drenched in pesticides & herbicides, applied by firehoses. I’m not kidding. Fire hoses. They do not plant any trees at all. They only plant privet hedges & hydrangeas. No mansions built here in the Hamptons in the last 25 years has a single tree on the property.

      I’m not rich. I bought my house many years ago & it has a small front yard. If I take down my pear tree I would need to plant another tree immediately. I have guinea fowl who need fly up into tree branches when they are threatened. I feed the guineas on the ground, so all the other birds eat their birdseed on the ground, not from a feeder. They need the tree branches as a launch pad & hangout until it’s their turn to fly down, pick up some peanuts, safflower or sunflower and fly right back up into the tree to safely eat it before the neighbors cat can draw a bed on them. So how can I pull down a tree and not plant another tree in its place immediately after? Tree trunks and roots take a long time to decompose. I don’t have a lot of time; I have a progressive disease that’s ultimately terminal. If you can figure out a way that I can cut down the tree, get rid of the stump & roots and plant another substantially sized tree in its place immediately, then I’ll do it.

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