Bradford Pears found a way, now they are a problem

You know that pretty white-flowered tree that blooms every Spring in Jefferson County, Missouri?  It doesn’t belong here.

The Bradford Pear is everywhere.  It’s a pear-shaped tree that blooms during our Missouri spring but there’s a problem.  It’s not one of our kind.

[The Bradford Pear is not a native tree to Missouri or to the United States.  It was brought in from China.  It was brought in as sort of a landscapers dream or a landscapers alternate.]

That’s the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Foresty Regional Supervisor for St. Louis, Cathy Dejong.  One problem with the Bradford Pear is they are structurally weak.  They break off easy during storms.  But there’s a bigger problem.  Dejong says those that brought the tree in the US in the 1950s through the tree was sterile.  But just like in Jurassic Park…

[…life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously…]

Mr. Hammond and his gooney scientists made these dinosaurs with special DNA that would not be able to cross-pollinate, so to speak.  Well, guess what?  They did.

[–Well, there it is.  –There it is.  –You’re implying that a group composed entirely of female animals will breed?  –No, I’m simply saying: Life finds a way.]

According to Dejong, kind of the same thing happened with the Bradford Pear.

[After a certain period of time, many different cultivars were produced. These different cultivars, when planted in close proximity now cross-pollinate and they grow very quickly.]

So, how do we fix the problem?

[If you start to see they naturalize or if you’ve got common areas or wooded areas, the earlier you can get them out probably the better.  Pull them out if the soil is pretty moist.  There are other alternatives as far as killing them with herbicides either foliar spraying them or stump treating them.]

So, if we can learn anything from Bradford Pears or Jurassic Park, for that matter, Dejong says, “don’t plant invasive species.”

Native trees to Missouri include Red Buckeye, Serviceberry, and Pawpaw while the most common are Redbud, Dogwood, and Green Hawthorn.

This article was originally written and produced for KJFF Radio back on April 30th of 2014.

UPDATE:  April 9, 2019 – The Missouri Department of Conservation continues to encourage homeowners and landscapers to avoid planting Bradford pears this spring.  More here.

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