Did you know that April is designated as Ohio Native Plant Month? House Bill 59, a bill which Representative Scott Wiggam (District 1) of Wayne County was the Lead Sponsor of, was signed into law by Governor Mike Dewine in 2019. This bill designated April as Ohio Native Plant Month and is made to increase the public awareness of Ohio’s native plants and the many benefits that they provide to pollinators, Ohio’s economy, and the health of Ohio’s environment.
With this being Native Plant Month, there really is not a better time to talk about a tree that is threatening and choking out many of our native trees and shrubs. Our landscape is currently being brightened by the blooms of the Callery Pear trees. The Callery Pear, also known as the Bradford Pear, or the Cleveland Select, is actually an extremely aggressive, non-native species. Our native landscape is under attack by this invasion of Callery Pear and it is continuing to get worse.
So how did this tree even get into the US? Interestingly enough, it was sought out because it was thought of as a “super pear” with resistance to fire blight and was sought out by the US Department of Agriculture. They located the tree in places like Wuhan and Yichang in China, Vietnam, Japan, and Taiwan and brought it back to the US to be as a rootstock for grafting purposes. Over time, the tree gained in popularity as an ornamental and that thus began the spread of the Callery Pear.
During this time of year, it is nearly impossible to notice all of the white flowering trees that are quite literally in every aspect of the landscape. If you do not see the flowers, you probably can pungent, unattractive smell. Unfortunately, the majority of the Callery Pear that you are seeing, or smelling, were not planted, and you will continue to find more and more of them every year that were not planted by people, but instead, spread by birds and animals. While the tree lawns in cities are littered with trees that were planted, you can basically stick these trees in any kind of soil, and they will grow. What is even more disturbing is to find these trees popping up in otherwise untouched wilderness areas, far away from where anyone would have originally planted one. Once they are established areas, they begin to choke out native plant species and become thick, deep rooted stands of trees that are frustratingly difficult and expensive to control.
They are invasive to the point that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources added the Callery/Bradford pear to the states invasive species listing in in 2018. In 2023 it will be illegal to buy or plant this species in Ohio. This is a good move; it is just about 20 years late. The ones planted are spreading exponentially and are causing serious problems if not kept in check. Though originally thought that they did breed to not bear fruit, they do. Birds gorge on the plentiful, but low energy fruit then dropping the seeds in their waste everywhere and the next tree takes off creating an endless and devastating cycle. Callery/Bradford pears are weak structured with steep “V” notched branches that are prone to breaking off in ice, snow, and windy conditions. They will get to roughly 10 to 15 years old and then start falling apart. The other issue is the waxy leaves decompose very slowly causing headaches in landscape and street tree settings, as well as compost piles. Simply put, please DO NOT plant a Callery/Bradford pear and if you have one now, cut it down before its invasive seeds are spread any further or it falls apart.
Cutting down, treating, and removing Callery Pear is a great first stop, now think about what kind of native species you can replant. There are a lot of great options to use as a substitute in your landscape. Those trees include common serviceberry, Allegheny serviceberry, cockspur or native hawthorn, or native crabapples.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a complete listing of invasive species that you should avoid planting, alternatives to plant instead of the invasive species, and many other educational and useful resources on their website: forestry.ohiodnr.gov. Before you go out planting something that you are not sure about, take some time to dig a littler deeper into what you are planting to find out if it is going to cause you headaches down the road and hurt the native species or, are you working with a plant that will benefit our native wildlife and habitats. Planting native species and creating native habitats will benefit our native landscapes, birds, pollinators and so much more for a long time to come!
Frank Becker is an OSU Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources Program Assistant and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
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