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Bradford pear, the calleryana pear tree that went from true love to hate

Wonderful white blooming of the Bradford pear tree

A short-lived species in the Pear family, Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana) bears particularly abundant blooms in early Spring.

Bradford pear key facts

Name – Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’
Family – Rosaceae
Type – tree

Height – 30 to 50 feet (9 to 15 m)
Exposure – full and part sun
Soil – no special requirements

Foliage – deciduous
Flowering – March to April

Though increasingly regarded as invasive, in some gardens “Callery pear” is still worth keeping in good shape instead of pulling it out right away.

How to plant Bradford pear

Fall is always the best season to plant ornamental trees. It gives the roots time to spread underground throughout the winter. Here is a quick guide to planting trees such as Bradford pear.

Pruning and maintaining Bradford pear trees

Bradford pear fruits attract birdsBradford pear is an “all-or-nothing” tree when it comes to pruning. This means you should either not touch it at all for its entire lifetime, or, oppositely, start pruning it while young to shape it into a worthwhile specimen.

Indeed, branches tend to form clusters that compete with each other as the tree grows. Removing some of them after the tree has grown large will break the balance. The tree might appear gangly and deformed.

Always prune the tree in Fall, that way you’ll preserve the Spring blooming. Also, it’ll reduce the risk of having branches break off due to Winter winds.

Pruning bradford pear when young

The goal is to give the tree a classic single-trunk shape as high as can be.

  • Branches tend to be co-dominant, meaning they compete with each other and are fairly even in thickness.
  • Whenever the sapling forks, select the straighter of the two branches and prune the other off.
  • Let side branches develop whenever they aren’t growing as vertical as the leader.
  • Keep doing this as the tree grows taller.

Pruning an old Bradford pear tree

It’s harder to succeed in “shrinking” a grown Bradford pear tree. Hatracking won’t do it any good. Best select and remove a couple branches on the outer portion of the cluster that seem to have the weakest joints.

You can tell a joint will be weaker when bark forms cracks and bulges between the branches.

Pests and diseases on Callery pear

It’s a very resistant tree, especially against fireblight. This was actually the reason the tree was brought to the United States in the first place.

Indeed, it was hoped that through cross-pollination, this trait would be passed down to other common pear trees. Sadly, however, it wasn’t possible to single out an offspring that wouldn’t also lose its fruit-forming appeal…

Brittle wood

Brittle wood of the bradford tree often breaksWhat usually brings the tree down is old-fashioned wind, since the wood breaks off easily.

A very fast grower, the growth speed leads the tree to its own demise: it breaks into pieces under its own weight after reaching 20 to 25 years of age.

As a consolation, you can use the wood for woodworking and for firewood: it excels in both!

Learn more about Pyrus calleryana

The common name, “Bradford pear”, actually honors an American horticulturist who specialized in early orchard experimentation, Frederick Charles Bradford. He graduated at the University of Maine, and led the Maryland Agriculture department station where this particular cultivar was identified and replicated.

However, the botanical name derives from the Italian-French missionary, Joseph Maxime Marie Callery. The Callery pear is one of over 2,000 species of plants he sent from China for study to Europe in the 1840s!

The history of the Callery pear tree is rather well documented, in part because it has become such an invasive tree in the United States (and Australia, too).

Top Callery pear cultivars

These mostly result, indirectly, from seeds gathered in China by Frank N. Meyer (of Meyer lemon fame), grown in Oregon by F.C. Reimer, and other batches from the region gathered in the early Xth century.

  • Bradford
  • Chanticleer
  • Aristocrat
  • Red Spire
  • Autumn Blaze
  • Capital
  • Whitehouse
  • New Bradford…

Many more exist. Interestingly, the original Bradford pear didn’t (and still doesn’t) have any plant patent protection on it, so propagation isn’t restricted. Other named varieties often do, however.

Smart tip about Bradford pear tree

This tree’s wood is very brittle and can’t cope with wind. Don’t set up any swingset or sandbox under the tree, you’ll risk an accident with children if ever a branch breaks and falls!


Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
CC BY 2.0: Lee Coursey
CC BY-SA 2.0: Chris Hsia
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