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Tree of the Week: Bradford Pear

January 3, 2009 |  5:00 am

The Bradford Pear -- Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford'

Bradford_pearThe spring-blooming ornamental pear tree Pyrus calleryana was introduced to the West in 1908 from its native China and Korea. The seedling that later became 'Bradford' was brought from Nanjing in 1919, but the USDA did not introduce the variety commercially till 1963. It was assumed to be a perfect street and garden tree and was planted ubiquitously in this country, especially in the Southeast. But then its faults started surfacing: the flower odor is somewhat peculiar; the tree lives only 25 years or so; the vertical branches are attached in narrow crotches that split easily, especially under a load of ice or snow; the tree is a nightmare to prune; and hybrids developed to overcome some of the earlier problems produce viable seeds that may become invasive in summer wet climates.

The Bradford Pear is a deciduous, fairly fast-growing tree that may attain 30 to 50 feet in height and 30 to 40 feet in width. The pyramidal shape develops unless changed through pruning. Bark is a fissured gray. Without corrective pruning, the tree develops into a tight cluster of strongly vertical branches without a main trunk. Young growth is thorny. Glossy, dark leaves are oval, leathery and 1½  to 3 inches long. A cold snap in late autumn brings out brilliant purplish-red fall colors. The tree is covered with white flowers in early spring; these are followed by small round inedible fruit. It needs full sun and takes most soils. The tree takes moderate water but is drought resistant. It has some susceptibility to fire blight, a bacterial disease that makes little branches die and look scorched, but is not as susceptible as the Evergreen Pear, P. kawakamii. Other varieties of Pyrus calleryana are more pyramidal ('Aristocrat,' 'Chanticleer') or columnar ('Whitehouse') in shape.

--Pieter Severynen

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Photo: Pieter Severynen

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