Tree of the Week: Bradford Pear

Actually, this paragraph should be about the tree of the century since we all love the Bradford pear.  The tree is not really a Bradford any more than all tissues are Kleenex or all cellophane tapes are Scotch.  It is just the most ubiquitous variety of this plant.  A nurseryman would immediately know what type of tree you were talking about if you asked for a Bradford pear.  The correct name of the plant is the Callery Pear also known as Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’.  For those who are unfamiliar with this tree, I would say it is to a fruiting, edible pear what a crab apple is to an edible, fruiting apple.  It is an ornamental spring flowering small tree with nearly perfect city manners.  It does not grow too big; it has perfect symmetry; it grows in poor and salty soil; it does not make messy big fruits; it has great fall color; it has delicate white flowers in the spring; and finally, it is disease and insect resistant.  In short, it tolerates us and our cityscapes as well as a little tree should.  For those of us in the temperate latitudes, it is a fine example of a street tree.  

The Callery pear is a species of good winter hardy plants.  They have been extensively selected with Bradford being the most breakout special variety among others.  Now, there are more fastigiated forms such as ‘Aristocrat’ or better fall color such as ‘Chanticleer’.  If you were to shop for a Callery pear, read the most recent nurseryman’s literature before selecting a variety.  New types such as ‘Cleveland Select’ may have better branching and ice storm resistance than older varieties.

The reason I love the Bradford Pear is the adaptability of the species.  The only thing I know of that is wrong with the tree is it is brittle in ice storms and breaks out limbs when weighted with accumulated ice.  Other than that, they are pretty tough little guys.  One thing that is bad about pear trees in general is that they are susceptible to a bacterial disease called Fireblight.  I believe you can make any pear tree get Fireblight if you feed it enough nitrogen and water and make its new growth in the spring soft enough.  The Callery pear is naturally resistant to that process but if pushed, it can succumb to that disease.  If pruned out and returned to natural fertility levels and water levels, I do not think it will self sustain the bacterial infection. 

The other interesting thing about the Callery pear is it’s phenology.  It is late to flower in the spring, sparing it from spring frosts.  It also is very late to lose its leaves in the fall.  I feel it is half due to the genetics of the tree and half due to its aggressive growth personality.  It does not seem to want to give up growing in the fall and abscise it’s leaves.  It is among the last to color and shed it’s leaves.  But it does go out with a blaze of purple/red/gold fall color glory.

Since the monocultures of street trees have met their successive demises, the Bradford pear stands next in line for some imported disease.  It has stood where the American Elm, and the Green Ash and the American Chestnut have fallen to the Elm Bark Beetle (Dutch Elm Disease), Emerald Ash Beetle and the Chestnut Blight, respectively.  The Bradford pear is so commonly used, it is hard to believe some pest will not take advantage of the situation.   

A blonde woman was speeding down the road in her little red sports car and was pulled over by a woman police officer who was also a blonde. The blonde cop asked to see the blonde driver’s license. She dug through her purse and was getting progressively more agitated.

“What does it look like?” she finally asked..
The policewoman replied, “It’s square and it has your picture on
it” The driver finally found a square mirror in her purse, looked at it and handed it to the policewoman.

Here it is,” she said.. The blonde officer looked at the mirror,
then handed it back saying, “Okay, you can go. I didn’t realize you were a cop.”


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