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If the Bradford pear tree is banned, why are there so many in Northeast Ohio?

LawIf the Bradford pear tree is banned, why are there so many in Northeast Ohio?

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Muddy shoes, raging seasonal allergies, and blooming Bradford pear trees… Yep, must be April in Northeast Ohio. But wait, weren’t those trees banned? Then why are there so many of them? Here are answers to these questions and more, including what to do if you spot one for sale or being planted.

Ornamental pear trees are illegal to sell or plant in Ohio, but there is no requirement to cut down existing trees. Since January 2023, it is illegal in Ohio to plant or sell ornamental pear trees. The trees are listed on the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s invasive plant species list under the botanical name Pyrus calleryana and common name “Callery pear.” That is the first area of confusion, because the Callery pear has many varieties, such as Bradford pear and Cleveland Select, from its long period of commercial cultivation from the 1960s to the early 2000s. Growers attempted to create the perfect ornamental suburban tree with luscious but sterile flowers (so no messy clean-up) that grows quickly to a dwarf size. But the trees cross-pollinated in the wild and became fruiting and fragile. To add insult to injury, the trees smell bad.

What’s so bad about Bradford pear trees? This time of year is perfect to understand why the tree was banned—they are everywhere. Some are in neat (some would say boring) rows along parking lots and developments, but many more are in wild and semi-wild areas, where they crowd out native trees and shrubs that provide habitat and food for the many songbirds that are migrating through Northeast Ohio this time of year. As I drive around the Cleveland area, the Callery pear trees that are wild far outnumber the ones that were clearly planted as a landscape specimen.

If Bradford pear trees are so bad, then why was there a grace period where they could still be sold? After the Ohio Department of Agriculture listed the Callery pear on its invasive plant species list in 2018, there was a five-year grace period to allow growers to sell their existing stock. This lag allowed many more trees to be planted. When these trees crack in a windstorm or unleash offspring in the wild and become a problem, tree companies will be hired to remove them. The losers in this arrangement are the cash-strapped parks systems, municipalities, and individuals who are paying for these services.

What should I do if I see Callery pear trees for sale? After a quick Google search revealed big-name retailers that will apparently ship Bradford pear trees or bare roots to Ohio, I contacted Bryan Levin, public information officer at the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA). He explained via email that ODA is in the process of “working with online sellers to adapt policies that reflect compliance with Ohio’s laws and codes.” He added that the ODA Division of plant health would be “following up” with the companies I had mentioned as examples of online sellers shipping Pyrus calleryana to Ohio. Levin writes, “ODA is proud of our working relationship with out-of-state partners to safeguard native plants and promote compliance with nursery stock regulations,” and online retailers shipping plants on Ohio’s invasive plant list should be reported to plantpest@agri.ohio.gov

What if it looks like my neighbor is planting a Callery pear? If you feel comfortable doing so, ask them about it. As Levin points out, other ornamental pears, such as Pyrus pyrifolia, are still legal to sell. If the tree in question is Pyrus calleryana, the retailer should be reported to plantpest@agri.ohio.gov. You can also share information about the ban and the reasons for it. Your neighbor should thank you for saving them planting a tree destined to break in half during a windstorm and result in an expensive tree removal bill.

What should we do about all the Bradford pear trees that are already planted? If you have Bradford pear on your property, tag it now while it is blooming and easy to identify, and consider removing it before it sets fruit in a few weeks. A gardening meme making the rounds advises that “to prune a Bradford pear tree, grab your best power saw and make a horizontal cut just above ground level.” After removing the tree, it is essential to prevent wild suckering of new branches from the root stock by applying an herbicide to the fresh cut. OSU Fact Sheet F-65 has information on methods to control non-native trees. (Although the fact sheet discusses Tree of Heaven, the methods work for Bradford pear as well.)

Then replace it with an ornamental flowering native, such as serviceberry (Amelanchier species), arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), or Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis). Serviceberry plants grow into small multitrunked trees that are flowering now and will have berries in a few weeks, which are eaten by more than 40 varieties of birds. Two resources for finding retailers for these shrubs are the websites for Ohio Native Plants and the Wild Ones Greater Cleveland Chapter.

Read all of Susan Brownstein’s gardening columns here.

If the Bradford pear tree is banned, why are there so many in Northeast Ohio?

A serviceberry (Amelanchier), like this one in bloom at Bratenahl Place, makes a fine substitute for Bradford pear trees.Susan Brownstein

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