Expansion of Callery pear a serious problem in area

May 4, 2019 GMT

La PORTE — Callery pear, also known as flowering pear or Bradford pear, is among the most popular ornamental trees in the United States.

The white flowers produced by the tree are one of the first signs of spring in the Midwest and Callery pear is a common feature of plantings, urban trees and housing additions.

The species, according to the La Porte County Soil and Water Conservation District, is an aggressive invader of native forest, savanna and prairie habitats across the eastern United States. Expansion of Callery pear is a serious problem as the species outcompetes and suppresses native species that are much more desirable for wildlife habitat and forest health.

Callery pear can be identified by its white flowers that appear in March/April. It also has distinct waxy, eggshaped leaves and some varieties have large thorns. The fruits are small, typically the size of a dime or smaller, with rough, brown skin.

When first produced in spring, the fruits are hard, but soften over the course of the spring and summer. The trees grow quickly and produce pollen and fruit as early as three years.

The fruits are dispersed by birds, which results in new trees growing in a variety of habitats where birds travel.

According to the La Porte County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Callery pear’s continued use as an ornamental tree further contributes to the problem of expansion. The SWCD recommends against using the tree for landscaping. Their tight branch angles and poor structure means they readily break under windy and icy conditions. This presents a danger to people and nearby structures where they are planted.

Nicole Messacar, education coordinator for the SWCD, further elaborated.

“They are really spreading to more natural areas,” said Messacar. “The problem with this is that they are a non-native tree. They can really form dense thickets in natural areas, which doesn’t allow for our native plant species to grow. They also leaf out sooner, so they shade out our spring wildflowers. Those wildflowers are often the only source of nectar and pollen for our bees.”

Controlling the tree, said SWCD, can be a challenge. Callery pear has a deep, strong taproot that limits pulling even small stems. Additionally, it actively stump sprouts meaning when cut or girdled follow up herbicide treatment is necessary to kill an individual plant.

The stems are spindly with leaves close to the stem and each other, which means spray herbicide application has limited success. Successive mechanical and/or herbicide treatments are most successful in effectively controlling and eradicating this species.

Callery pear trees, even though they are invasive, are available for retail and wholesale purchase by developers and consumers. The SWCD asks consumers to avoid purchasing and planting ornamental pear trees.

“We recommend that people avoid anything called “flowering pear” or “Callery pear” or “Bradford pear,” said Messacar. “They are all the same species and are sold all over the place. There are wonderful native trees that people can choose instead. We recommend American Plum, Flowering Dogwood, Eastern Redbud, Hawthorn and Serviceberry.”

She also gave recommendations on how to rid your property of the problematic pear.

“If people find them in their yards or property, they should cut the tree down and treat the stump with glyphosate or triclopyr, following the label instructions carefully. This is best done in the early spring,” said Messacar.

For a list of retailers who sell native plants and do not sell invasive species, visit GrowIndianaNatives.org. For more information, on the La Porte County Soil and Water Conservation District, visit www.laporteswcd.com or call the SWCD office at 326-6808 ext. 2115.