Bradford pear trees are becoming invasive

Bob Dluzen
Special to The Detroit News

It’s the first week in May and in most towns and subdivisions in our part of the state, everywhere you look you see a profusion of white flowers blooming on lollipop-shaped Bradford pear trees.

When landscapers and homeowners first started planting them several decades ago, they were kind of exotic and caught your eye. Unfortunately, it’s all you see nowadays.

Unimaginative landscape architects and designers incorporate them into their landscape designs without even giving it a second thought. I guess you can't blame them for doing that since no one complains about it. Instead, people actually prefer the familiar plants.

Lazy landscape design will soon be the least of our worries as these alien trees start to escape cultivation and crowd out our beloved native Michigan trees and shrubs.

Bradford pears are a cultivated variety of wild pears native to China and neighboring countries. When first introduced, it was thought they were unable to produce viable seeds and would therefore not cause any problems. But something happened along the way and now they’ve found a way to reproduce.

This new iteration of trees are not as attractive and tame as their straight-laced parents. They’re scruffy-looking, are of all different sizes and no longer have that tidy branch formation found on the cultivated variety.

The wild Bradfords seem to be very competitive and are happy to take over an open prairie or meadow.

Last week I visited a local nature preserve and was dismayed to see a large open field of maybe 20 acres or so containing a thriving population of wild Bradford pears evenly scattered across the property. I thought to myself, this could be the future of southern Michigan’s wild landscape.

At the present moment, the wild pear population of that field is only moderately dense, but in a few more years as new seedlings sprout, it’ll really be a mess.

Across the center of this photo you can see a hazy streak of white, that is a population of wild  Bradford pear trees blooming among other native shrubs.

We can look for them to invade the transition areas between suburbs and farmland first, then eventually move out further into the natural landscape.

It was bound to happen considering millions of these trees have been planted. Cities and developers still plant them by the thousands.

You can call me a curmudgeon, but I never liked the artificial looking silhouette of those trees and have never planted one on any property I’ve lived on.

Bradford pears have a weak growth structure that makes branches prone to breaking.

Last fall I made the decision to cut down a rapidly growing Bradford that was planted on land I’m looking after. It was only one tree but why contribute to the problem?

Because of its fine, smooth grain, wood carvers, woodturners and other craftspersons love pear wood for certain projects that require fine-grained wood. If you do cut down a tree, I suggest you offer the pear wood to a wood crafter friend before tossing it on the firewood pile.