Bradford Pear: What Can We Plant Instead?

I’ve had a number of conversations with people lately about the Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana). Many of these discussions started with someone saying to me, “There is this tree with white flowers I’m seeing along the highways right now. It’s really pretty. What is it?” Queue the discussion about what it is, how invasive it has become so as to displace our native MO plants, how it smells like rotten carcass, and how it is at high risk of splitting in high winds and icy conditions.

Not only have there been these discussions, but there have been a number of articles lately on the Bradford Pear. One of the articles was defending this tree, trying to inspire some “warm fuzzies” for it by saying that at least one insect benefits from the tree along with a reminder that the Bradford Pear is a living organism. While I understand that these are good reasons to not outright hate this tree, the bottom line is: It is crowding and shading out our native plants who are much more beneficial to our native wildlife. It escaped cultivation when it should not have. It smells awful. It becomes a hazard in windy or icy conditions. Conclusion: Fall color and white blossoms are not worth the hassles that accompany this tree.

Now, let’s talk about the solution. What to plant in place of this non-native, invasive, stinky tree?

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Sun-Shade, 20-30′ tall, Missouri State Tree, blocky “alligator” bark in more mature trees, birds and mammals eat berries, larval food for spring azure butterfly and moths

Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), Full Sun-Part Shade, 15-25′ tall, vertically grooved bark, berries for mammals and birds (and people!), early nectar and pollen source for pollinators

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), pink flowers, Sun-Part Sun, 20-30′ tall, mix of flaky gray and red bark in mature trees, seeds persist through much of winter, early nectar source for pollinators, seeds eaten by birds and mammals, leaves are larval food source for Henry’s elfin butterfly

These are all good alternatives to the Bradford Pear. Plant any one (or all) of these in its place and you will be contributing to a more complete ecosystem and still benefit from year-long interest.

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