One of my former farm neighbors had a row of mature Bradford Pear trees that ran the length of his farm frontage along the highway. In the spring their branches are loaded with beautiful white flowers, prompting admirers to imagine planting their own row.
I never counted his trees, but there were at least dozens. He mowed around them and trimmed the breaking limbs every year. Weak limbs are a common characteristic. Bring on a little wind or ice and they snap like a pretzel.
Meanwhile, across the highway were large hay fields seeded by the birds with baby Bradford Pear trees shooting up everywhere, and two abandoned houses on the property were completely surrounded by hundreds of the trees, making it impossible to see anything more than their roofs.
All of this made it easy to understand why this tree, which is not native to our country, is branded “invasive,” which makes it sound like an unwanted intruder invading our land and wreaking havoc.
In the 1960s when the tree was created in a laboratory, it was thought to be as wholesome as Andy Williams singing “Moon River.” Those white blossoms every spring would help us get rid of wintertime blues and get our springtime juices flowing.
Little did we know that what everyone believed was the perfect tree was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
It isn’t much of a problem in suburbia, where lawns and roadways are regularly mowed, keeping the invasion under control. But on farmland, abandoned properties and untended open spaces, it can become a nightmare. Its thorns are long and sharp, capable of puncturing tractor tires. When farmers spray chemical killing agents on a field of it, tiny little Bradford Pear seedlings are in the soil laughing together and shouting, “Hold my thorn and watch this.” In no time the sprayed 3-footers are replaced by a new and often larger crop.
So the state of South Carolina has taken the unusual step of banning sales of the Bradford Pear. North Carolina isn’t focused on the spread of anything, but maybe it will wake up to this one.
Even if our two joined-at-the-hip states that we call The Carolinas act to stop the sale of this tree, it will take decades to eradicate it, if that is even possible.
There are several invasive trees around us--the Princess Tree (Paulownia), Mimosa, Black Locust, Tree of Heaven, and the non-native Wisteria to name a few--but Bradford Pear is the worst and should not be sold or planted.
Instead, let’s plant only trees that are native.
Larry McDermott is a retired journalist/farmer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org