SC banning sales of Bradford Pear trees, foresters explain why

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 9:51 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 20, 2021 at 9:53 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina is banning the sale of invasive Bradford Pear trees because of their impact on SC ecosystems.

Foresters say the trees spread quickly and are hard to control because of their strong and copious thorns that have been known to damage heavy-duty forestry vehicles.

“This is equipment that goes out in the woods and deals with all kinds of things, and they won’t go near places with pears because they know their equipment is going to be damaged,” says David Jenkins, Forest Health Project Manager at the SC Forestry Commission.

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Bradford pears were first brought from Asia to SC in the 1950s and 1960s as ornamental trees. They were a popular choice for urban planners because of their low price, quick growth, beautiful white blooms in spring and bright red foliage in fall, and their alleged sterility.

However, foresters discovered the trees are not sterile as birds began taking fruit from the trees to nearby fields and forests where the Bradfords transitioned into the wild type called Callery Pears. The wild Callery pears developed thorns and quickly dominated native trees in SC forests because of their ability to thrive in shaded areas.

Because Bradfords and Callerys are non-native to the state, they do not have natural predators that native trees have.

“A lot of people don’t realize this, but for instance, Bradford pear or just about any non-native. A lot of our insects don’t feed on them,” says Jenkins. “And that’s one of the reasons these things are successful. They don’t have things that are eating them and keeping their populations down.”

Dr. David Coyle, Assistant Professor of Forest Health and Invasive Species at Clemson University, agrees that banning the sale of Bradfords will also help cut down on Callery pears.

“Part of it is just getting these things off the landscape,” says Coyle. “And the more of these we get off the landscape, either by removal or simply not putting them in there, is just less potential seed to plant new ones.”

Coyle is involved in research attempting to find the best way to get rid of fields that are dominated by Callery pears. For now, he says the best way to control the species at a personal level, such as in a front yard, is to cut the tree to the stump and treat the stump with any household herbicide.

Clemson University started a program in 2020 called “Bradford Pear Bounty” which allows people to trade Bradford pears from their yard for native SC plants for free.

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Even if you like how your Bradford pear looks, Coyle says you should still consider trading it in for a native tree. Not only are Bradford’s invasive, but they are also weak and have short lifespans. Coyle says the trees are known to snap and split easily during severe weather.

“That, to me, is one of the number one reasons to get that thing out of there,” says Coyle. “And, you’ll hear a lot of people say, ‘Well, I like it, it’s got pretty flowers in the spring, it’s got great red color in the fall.’ We’ve got native stuff that has the same characteristics.”

When the ban takes effect on October 1, 2024, owning a Bradford pear or having one in your yard will not be illegal or prohibited, although it is encouraged that you swap it for a native species.

Coyle says the “Bradford Pear Bounty” events will continue in the coming years. The next Midlands event is scheduled in Columbia on October 23, 2021.

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