Spring is in the air and so is the white flowering Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana). You have probably seen tons of them in the Washington DC metro area. Right now in March, they are really pretty with so many small white flowers – like puffs of white clouds. But then you begin to see them everywhere: along the highway, in vacated lots, and in every industrial park – like weeds.
The Bradford pear was originally thought to be a sterile tree. As new cultivars were created, the cultivars were able to cross pollinate, resulting in small fruit favored by birds (thus spreading the seed). As time has gone by and the trees have matured, we have learned that they are structurally weak. They develop such a steep V-shaped branching structure, they can easily split in half.
In addition to their invasive nature and their ability to break, the white blossoms have a foul, fish-like odor. If you stand near them in full bloom, the odor is very strong! Fortunately this goes away when the blooming season is over in the spring.
Contrary to the name, there are no “pear” fruit on the tree. This is an ornamental tree, not a fruit tree. But of all the ornamental trees you can plant on your property, this is probably the worst choice. There are so many other better choices, including native trees, that you should not even consider this one. And if you just purchased a home that has been landscaped with a small Bradford pear, pull it out immediately!