The Bradford Pear Tree
The Bradford pear tree is not a native American tree. It was first brought to America from China in 1908, because most native pear trees were susceptible to fire blight and were dying. It was released by the USDA for sale in the early 1960s. The Bradford pear is not the best of pear-type trees, but it is extremely popular in urban areas, where it can be planted around parking lots, in the center strip of highways, and other places where many trees simply would not survive.
The scientific name of the Bradford pear tree is Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford.’ The tree can grow to be 30-40 feet tall, and prefers the warmer temperatures of zones 5 through 9A. It is covered with beautiful white blossoms in the spring, and in the fall can have many splendid colors from red to orange and dark maroon. It does well planted in containers. The fruits are not edible by humans but are a favorite of birds and squirrels.
The biggest problem with the Bradford pear tree is that it has many upright branches growing too closely together on the trunk. This makes the plant extremely breakable, especially in bad weather. The tree can be pruned to reduce the risk of breakage but pruning is best done by professionals.
A Bradford pear tree will grow well in almost any type of soil and generally is not bothered by pollutants or pests that affect many other trees, especially in the city. It likes to grow in full sun and is not bothered by either drought or too wet soil. In part because of their branch structure, however, the trees start to have problems with wind and snow damage as they age. This can cause them to break apart when they start to be in the range of twenty years old. Be prepared to replace the tree by the time it is twenty-five years old.
The breakage is a problem in many cities where the trees are now reaching this age span. Many cities in the Washington, DC/Virginia area have stopped planting the trees. They have even stopped contractors from planting them in subdivisions. In Baltimore over 100 Bradford pear trees were torn up for sidewalk construction and will be replace with another tree. According to an article in the Washington Post, the Bradford pears were also removed from the sides of the parking lot at the National Arboretum. They were afraid of limbs from the trees falling onto parked cars. Thorns from spreading suckers have been reported to be so sharp as to pierce the tires on an automobile.
While the Bradford pear trees does have some drawbacks, many people still love the tree, especially when they see it during fall foliage. And, with proper pruning the breaking-apart can be delayed if not stopped altogether. But, if you want to plant a tree in your backyard that will last for a hundred or more years, forget about the Bradford pear tree.