PICKENS COUNTY — In late winter in Upstate South Carolina, the trees are mostly still bare — with the notable exception of the flowery white blooms of Bradford Pear trees.
For years homeowners have planted the decorative trees in their yards, drawn by their uniform pear-like shape, pleasing aesthetics and fast growth. But arborists like Carl Draper have been telling a different story: These trees were never meant to be.
“The Bradford Pear Tree came from China in the mid ‘60’s and was imported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” said Draper, a retired arborist who now lives in Easley. “It was an ornamental tree, brought over to help combat blight and it was supposed to be sterile. Well, it’s not.”
While it is true the trees cannot pollinate among themselves, as it turns out, they are exceptional at cross pollinating with Callery Pear trees — a cross-pollination that can lead to viable seeds.
“The seeds move fast,” said Draper. “Birds drop them, the wind carries them — you name it. Before you know it, you’ll have a whole forest full of thorny thickets that just choke out the life of the native plants.”
According to Draper, there are areas where the tree itself has been banned.
“But it’s not just the invasiveness of their offspring, the trees themselves can be a real nightmare to homeowners,” he said. “I mean, sure, they’re pretty — but they don’t smell all that nice. And they don’t live all that long.”
According to the USDA, Bradfords only have a lifespan of 20-25 years and are prone to splitting down the trunk. It is currently listed as an “invasive species” and was featured as the “Weed of the Week” in a recent USDA publication.
“They really are a pain. When I was still trimming trees, nine out of 10 calls I’d get for a split tree was a Bradford,” said Draper. “It happened all the time. Either it split, or the whole thing just fell over and went roots up.”
Draper encourages homeowners wanting to plant a flowering tree in their yard this Spring to consider other options.
“Dogwoods are always a good choice, flowering plums, cherries … There’s a Star Magnolia that has an early bloom too,” said Draper. “Just whatever you do, don’t plant a Bradford.”
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.