Dirty Socks (a.k.a. Bradford Pears)


We drove down I-40 yesterday sandwiched between drifts of white. All the white blooms massed atop limestone cuttings, up Interstate shoulders and down in fields were pretty, I admit, but they were all Bradfords.

Bradford pear trees are a cultivar of the Chinese callery pear, and they began as garden center darlings. Bradfords were cheap, plentiful, tough, pretty in spring, pretty in fall, and presumed “sterile” and thus well-behaved.

But like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, Bradford pears found a way. They cross-pollinate with any pear tree going, root sucker like mad, and produce viable fruit freely distributed by birds. First, they showed up in disturbed areas. Then, they showed up in managed natural areas.

Right this minute, the first official day of spring, Bradfords are at their peak. As is the infamous stink. As is the loathing of Bradfords by folks involved with invasive plant control.

bradford pear drivers side
bradford fields
Bradfords galore
Now, Bradford isn’t invasive on the same scale as say, bush honeysuckle, but it is a thug. It is on official “exotic pest plant” lists of several states, including Tennessee.
They crowd and shade out native plants which offer more benefits for wildlife. I’ve read they may even be allelopathic—that is, they produce chemicals that suppress all other plant growth—but I can’t find the research.
Garden centers still sell them because of the laws of supply and demand and because we don’t know any better.
But friends don’t let friends buy invasives.

Friends tell friends about native alternatives blooming white right now that are more lovely, more structurally sound and more ecologically useful than dumb ol’ Bradfords.

Such as the Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) abloom at Beaman Park.
Such as the exquisite American plum (Prunus americana) at Warner Park’s Meadow Tree Trail.
They both look good, smell great, and bear usable fruit.

Now, what other native, early white bloomer am I overlooking? Something which blooms white before Dogwood? Let me know.

bradford interstate

• Good article about Bradfords (Pryus calleryana “Bradford”).
Tennessee’s Exotic Pest Plant Council’s site lists native alternatives for trees, shrubs, flowers, ground cover, vines.
•Native plant nurseries in Middle Tennessee include GroWild and Nashville Natives.
•Tennessee Native Plant Society website and Facebook Page.