“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.
I had inherited my much longed for older sister’s bedroom. It was a garret-like space that opened into our dusty, but neatly arranged attic with oversized attic fan serving as both focal point and cooling system in the early 1960’s. Here too, was the board where my chalk smudged seven-year-old fingers laid out my future farm. Lots of horses with paddocks to the west of the house and long southern pastures in the fore were carefully drawn. The front drive would, of course, be Bradford pears lined up two-by-two all the way to the street.
I was raised on a love of Bradford pears. Originally sent from China to Europe, their snowy spring dresses came to adorn landscapes in all the most fashionable business parks beginning in the ‘50s. As subdivisions became popular, so too were these orderly, oval-topped sentries planted throughout neighborhood entries and parks alike. Their march toward omnipresence had begun.
As time passed, years of dust settled on the chalkboard with the drawing of my farm. Bradford pears advanced their hold on whole communities as I was building a career and raising a family. No horticulturalist, I had not studied the darker side of the pernicious pear. As I grew, those first pears started to disintegrate in storms. “Break-away” pears we labeled them as we began to recognize they were neither strong nor long-lived, have lives of usually less than 25 years, with their demise commonly arriving after only 15 to 20 years.
Then, Douglas Tallamy added a tombstone for all of the cultivars of the Callery pear including the Bradford, Cleveland and handful of others. His studies revealed how poor these trees are in hosting food sources for birds and other wildlife. In a talk for the Missouri Prairie Foundation, Tallamy discussed computations that a single family of chickadee babies will devour 9,000 caterpillars on their way to adulthood. Those caterpillars like oak trees and other natives – Bradford pears, not so much.
As I wrote this article I contemplated the double row of Cleveland pears the former owners planted on my farm with a rueful smile. They have fire blight and all must be removed. I cannot blame myself or you for all the lacy ladies, those Bradford pears planted across our country. We only went where we were led. But I can pledge a new allegiance to serviceberry, redbuds and other native trees for beauty along my drive and food in the bellies of birds. And when a grandchild uses my old chalkboard, I’ll teach them well about the shallow pleasures of a pretty face or flower alone. Our landscape’s beauty is made of more substantial stuff.
About the writer: Margo Farnsworth is a writer, biomimicry instructor and Fellow for the Biomimicry Institute. She invites readers into nature, offering strategic ways to live with wild neighbors through biomimicry and other practical methods. Her work has appeared in the book Wildness: Relations of People & Place along with magazines such as The New Territory, EarthLines, TreeHugger and numerous blogs.
Green Belt Land Trust wants to let you know about an opportunity to do some good work and help out a conservation easement landowner by clearing invasive honeysuckle on Saturday, November 11th, from 10AM to noon.
They will be led by Fred Young, honeysuckle exterminator extraordinaire, and Greenbelt will provide the necessary equipment. However, if you have your own loppers and work gloves, feel free to bring those, too!
Please RSVP by emailing mpowell[at]greenbeltmissouri.org, and he will send you information on where to meet.
Emmenegger Nature Park is a 110-acre wooded park in Kirkwood, Missouri, located on the Meramec River and endowed with unusual natural beauty and biological diversity.
As an “adopt-a-park” subset of Kirkwood Parks Assistance Corps (KPAC), a small crew of regular volunteers has been removing honeysuckle at Emmenegger for 4-5 years. We have worked every Sunday, March through May, and September through November. Two of our crew also work there during the week throughout the seasons.
Upon occasion we have been joined by students from Kirkwood High School and Meramec Community College, and volunteer participants with Biodiversity St. Louis “Honeysuckle Sweep Week.”
It would be impossible to know how many honeysuckle shrubs we’ve removed, but like most natural areas in the St. Louis region, the park was heavily infested. An estimate from Kirkwood Parks Department is that we’ve cleared about a third of the park, as many as 30 acres.
We also remove euonymus, garlic mustard, Callery Pear, Burning Bush, Japanese Beefsteak Plant and other known exotic invasives.
The KCNPI Large Landscapes Work Group will be hosting a half-day Invasive Species Identification And Control Workshop on July 14th at Jerry Smith Park. The workshop is intended for on the ground parks personnel and will be led by Larry Rizzo, Linda Lehrbaum and Matt Garrett.
The Kirkwood Parks Assistance Corps’ Honeysuckle Hackathon met with great success. Over 100 volunteers showed up in the course of a week. Here are some documents they used that may prove helpful in other community invasive plant removal efforts:
See more photos, click here. Photos of Meramec students helping on Thursday are here. To download the whole gallery, click on the downward arrow next to the “Buy Photos” button. To download individual photos click on the photo then on the downward arrow at bottom right page.