“My heart is broken.” A woman dipped her head back and sighed as cars zoomed behind her and freshly cut tree trunks lay bucked up in scattered rows. A long row of Bradford pear trees, a cultivar of Callery pear (Pyrus calleryanna), had bloomed in her Kansas community for years, and now they were gone. “This is the best part of our neighborhood,” she told a news reporter.
It’s easy to see what she loved about Callery pear trees: billions of white flowers put on shows in early spring and waxy red leaves blaze in the fall. As a plus, they grow fast to fill in new developments.
Of course, a closer look reveals many reasons for a neighborhood to cut down all their Callery pears.
While we at the Missouri Invasive Plant Task Force call for stopping the sale of invasive plants such as Callery pear, we know many people may ask, “If I cut down my Bradford pear tree, what should I replace it with,” or, “What should I plant instead of a Bradford or Callery Pear?”
The following are 10 native Missouri trees we recommend planting in place of Callery pear. These species not only challenge Callery pear in springtime beauty and/or fall color, but they also support the local ecosystem by providing food to wildlife that have coevolved with the trees over millennia. You can’t get much better than that.
Learn more about these and other Missouri native plants on the Grow Native! Native Plant Database.
1. Viburnum prunifolium (Blackhaw Viburnum)
Viburnum prunifolium (black haw viburnum) have flat heads of white flowers in the spring. Birds eat the purple-black fruit in the fall. The edible fruit tastes like raisins. Grow as a small tree or multi-stemmed shrub. The leaves develop a beautiful red color in fall. Viburnum photos by Fritz Flohr Reynolds and Suzanne Cadwell. Bradford Pear photos by Bruce Henry and MDC.
2. Prunus americana (Wild Plum)
Prunus americana, Wild Plum, can be grown as a single trunk tree or multi-stemmed shrub. The pure white, fragrant flowers are among the first to open in spring. Heavier flowering in sun. Yellow to red, round, edible fruits, 1″ in diameter. Host to Red-spotted Purple Butterfly and many moths. Wild plum photos by Becky Erickson.
3. Ostrya virginiana (Ironwood or Eastern Hophornbeam)
Ostrya virginiana (ironwood or Eastern hop hornbeam), is a tough understory tree with beautiful birch-like leaves, grayish-brown flaky bark, fine-textured drooping branches, and attractive hop-like fruits. Ironwood is considered one of Illinois’ toughest native hardwoods and is not only ornamental but resistant to many disease and insect problems.
Ironwood photos from Flickr user Katja Schulz and Missouri Botanical Garden. Bradford pear photos from John Nekola and Flickr user wplynn.
4. Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud)
Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud) bears prolific, edible, deep pink flowers in early spring. Red-purple, pea-shaped seed pods follow the flowers. Heart-shaped leaves turn yellow in fall. Eastern redbud photos from Grow Native! and Flickr user Matthew Beziat. Bradford pear photos by Martin LaBar and Amanda Nichols.
5. Amelanchier arborea (Serviceberry)
Amelanchier arborea (serviceberry) is a tall shrub or small tree bearing clusters of fragrant white flowers in April. Flowers give rise to very flavorful, red to purple-black, berrylike fruits relished by both songbirds and people. This lovely tree has colorful fall foliage in a blend of orange, gold, red and green. Serviceberry photos by Flickr users Dan Mullen and RJ. Bradford pear photos by Martin LaBar and Amanda Nichols.
6. Carpinus caroliniana (American Hornbeam)
Carpinus caroliniana (American Hornbeam) is a small to medium multi-stemmed tree forming wide spreading rounded tops. A subtle beauty often overlooked. Simple toothed leaves are dark green and have variable yellow, orange, red or reddish purple fall color. Beautiful thin, bluish-gray bark that appears to “ripple” as the tree matures. Hence another common name: “Musclewood.” Hornbeam photos by Flickr users Wendy Cutler and Paco Garin. Bradford Pear photos by wplynn and Roger Smith.
7. Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood)
Cornus florida (flowering dogwood) is a small, low-branched tree with spreading horizontal branches. Distinctive white flowers, 3″ in diameter, bloom mid-April to mid-May. Clusters of glossy red fruit in fall persist into winter and are relished by birds. Consistent deep red fall leaf color. Dogwood photos by Steve Harwood and Plant Image Library. Bradford pear photo courtesy MDC.
8. Nyssa sylvatica (Black Gum)
Nyssa sylvatica (black gum) is one of our most beautiful and underused native trees. Makes an excellent specimen tree, tidy shape. Attractive, glossy, dark green leaves that turn yellow, orange, and scarlet red in fall. Bark is dark gray to almost black, alligator-like patterns when old. Fruit the size of navy beans ripen to a dark blue in fall and are a favorite food to many birds. Host for the black and white Hebrew Moth. Learn more and find nurseries, landscape services and more at Grow Native! Black gum photos from Grow Native! and Flickr user Leonora (Ellie) Enking. Bradford Pear photos by wplynn and Roger Smith.
9. Cladrastis kentukea (Yellowwood)
Cladrastis kentukea (Yellowwood): very underused native that will fool some into thinking it is an exotic beauty! Medium sized tree, good for small areas, rich pea-green compound leaves with soft golden yellow fall color. The breathtaking, fragrant, creamy-white flowers occur in May on pendulous 8-14″ long panicles. Rarely heavily flowers annually, usually alternate flowering. The bark is very smooth and gray.
Yellowwood photos from Flickr user Tom Gill and Grow Native! Bradford pear photos from John Nekola and MDC.
10. Prunus virginiana (Chokeberry or Chokecherry)
Prunus virginiana (chokeberry or chokecherry) is a small, suckering tree or large shrub with attractive white flowers on 3-6″ long clusters in spring. Fruit is red, ripening to purple in fall. Grow as a screen or as an understory planting as it has unusual shade tolerance for a cherry. Chokeberry photos from Grow Native! and Flickr user Frank D. Lospalluto. Bradford Pear photo from MDC.
Did you find this blog post useful? Please share these images on Instagram, share our gallery on Facebook, and encourage your neighbors to replace Bradford pear with native Missouri alternatives!
In the case of Bradford pear (as it is most popularly called, though we’re really talking about all cultivars of Callery pear–more on that later), its potential harm to ecology and environment is substantial.
Here are some reasons why MoIP is choosing to focus attention on Bradford pear this year:
1. They can displace native plant communities
When thinking about invasive plants from an ecological perspective, the most important aspect is how they displace native plants communities.
Native plant communities are important for a number of reasons. Plants native to a particular area have co-evolved with other plants and animal species that we love and that keep our ecosystems healthy.
Native plants provide food for caterpillars and other insects, that are in turn eaten by larger animals. Non-native plants do not share evolutionary history with other native species, and therefore are not as ecologically beneficial as native counterparts. (For more, read this article by Doug Tallamy.)
Because Bradford pears grow so quickly, they can form thickets in large areas of land just a few years after sprouting. And as with many non-native plants, it leafs out earlier than native species, which shades out spring wildflowers. This alters the natural light and micro-climate of the land around the pear trees. It limits the ability of native plants to re-establish themselves.
And this is important, because as E.O. Wilson says:
“I will argue that every scrap of biological diversity is priceless, to be learned and cherished, and never to be surrendered without a struggle.”
2. Without control, invasive ornamental pear trees are geared up to take over quickly
If different cultivars of Callery pears (including the Bradford pear) are grown in proximity, they can cross-pollinate and produce fertile seeds, carried by birds into new areas.
Callery pear is adapted to a wide variety of environmental conditions, including heavy clay soils, drought, heat and pollution. Growing best in full sun, it also tolerates partial shading. Spreading into open, disturbed habitats, naturalization occurs within early successional fields, parks, rights of way, power lines and other natural open areas. It grows rapidly, flowers at a young age, often develops thorns and produces large amounts of seed. It is also establishing in the understory of forests and woodlands and is able to flower and fruit in small canopy openings.
The seed bank and sprouting ability of Bradford pear persists for years after cutting or treatment, so further management is needed beyond the first treatment.
3. You can do something!
Plant native alternatives. The City of Columbia’s “Stop the Spread!” campaign suggests the following:
“…As these trees deteriorate or become unhealthy, they should be promptly removed to eliminate a source of pollen and seed.
The solution to this invasive issue ultimately lies in the hands of homeowners, landscapers and developers. Please consider one of the many non-invasive alternatives to Callery pear trees when undertaking new landscape projects or large community developments. A decrease in the number of Callery pear cultivars and hybrids would be beneficial for our entire community to potentially reduce power outages, save costs of trimming and tree removal, and create a more ecologically balanced community forest.”
Visit MoIP’s parent organization, Grow Native! to find resources for native Missouri/Midwest seed, nurseries, landscape services and more.