Editorial: Pear trees presenting a problem in SC
Bradford pear trees are putting on a show in the Pee Dee Region and around the state with their bounty of white flowers. Everywhere you look, they are reminders that spring is nearly at hand.
As hard as it may be to accept, the beauty that is the Bradford pear in springtime is not a good a thing in South Carolina. Bradford pear trees are an invasive species that in and of themselves are not a problem, but their proliferation adds to what has become a significant environmental issue.
The Clemson Extension Service is out front in fighting invasive species and has been trying to convince South Carolinians to plant native species rather than the Bradford pear. Here’s why:While Bradford pear by itself is sterile, when it gets cross-pollinated by other Pyrus species — most infamously, the non-native Callery pear — the real problems start. Viable seeds are eaten by birds and spread across the southeastern landscape.
“That’s why you see Callery pears all over roadsides, old fields, ditches, interstates, everywhere,” said David Coyle, extension forest health and invasive species specialist. “Once a Callery pear gets there, they grow in really dense thickets and crowd out everything else, and you get these pure Callery patches.”
And not only do Callery pears have nasty thorns — typically anywhere from quarter-inch stubs to three-inch spikes — that can cause damage to everything from tractor tires to livestock, the damage they do to the ecosystem is just as bad.
The Bradford pear is a cultivar, or a plant variety, produced by grafting, and is a Callery pear that was originally thornless but had red fall coloring and white blossoms in the spring. For those reasons, Bradford pear became a hugely popular tree for ornamental reasons near the end of the last century and have been widely planted for years.
As with other invasive species, there is work to do to educate people and get them to realize the potential problems that can be caused. In the case of the Bradford pear tree, there is also the battle of getting people to accept there is in fact a problem with a tree that has come to be considered a signal of spring.
As much as we like seeing them, we’ll do our part in trying to get the word out that this pear is a problem. While it is not suggested that you cut down the trees you have – and that’s good because most people are not going to do that – the future of the total landscape will be better if no more are planted.