What Stinks? Bradford Pears!

By Guest Blogger John Isenhour Wildlife Habitat Coordinator

Author: NCWRC blogger/Monday, March 6, 2023/Categories: Blog, Conservation

This early hint of Spring is certainly refreshing after what seems like months of cold, damp weather.  As the melodies of chorus frogs and the refrains of towhees welcome us back outdoors, many of us are sucker punched by an aggressive invader known to some as the Bradford pear and to others as the Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana).   

While a literal punch in the nose from this non-native tree would be painful, the figurative punch of this pungent smelling early blooming exhibitionist is a concern for native plant diversity and wildlife habitat. As we venture out on these late winter days, it seems there is a fencerow, vacant lot or young forest being overrun by this introduced species around every corner. The smug white blooms of this escapee are an unignorable reminder of the impact non-native species have on our native habitats and their widespread presence across the landscape. 

But all is not lost! The same early blooms that vex us can also serve as a targeting device in the battle against this menace. Now is a great time to identify Bradford pears and remove them from the ecosystem, permanently.   

While the first inclination is to cut the tree down, this alone will promote stump sprouting, which is the pears way of saying “I’ll Be Back!” To end the life of the targeted tree, the stump must be dug up, or an expedient herbicide application is needed.  A strong application of glyphosate or triclopyr herbicide to the stump immediately after cutting is an effective method to “terminate” most invasive trees and shrubs.   

Larger trees can be treated by cutting into the bark with a hatchet or boring holes around the circumference of the tree with a drill, then filling the cuts or holes with a strong herbicide solution. Both methods kill the targeted plant while having little or no impact on the surrounding vegetation. 

It is important to remember that controlling Bradford pears, or any non-native invasive plant species, is a series of battles.  We will be faced with another round of blooms about this time next year. But if you’re interested in benefiting native habitats on your property, you must start somewhere.   

First and foremost, don’t plant Bradford pears!  Consider a native, spring-blooming alternative such as flowering dogwood, eastern redbud, red maple or American plum to include in your landscaping plans. Secondly, talk to your neighbors and let them know that Bradford pears are detrimental to a healthy ecosystem.  Finally, do what you can to kill Bradford pears on your property.   

This may seem daunting, but you are not alone in your efforts.  Several conservation partners have come together to sponsor the second annual “NC Bradford Pear Bounty”. This program provides free native trees to participants who document that they have eliminated a Bradford pear on their property.   

So, as we exit our winter doldrums, emerge ready to do battle with the formidable foe that is the Bradford pear. Fight it with your chainsaw, your hatchet, your loppers and your herbicide sprayers to make room for our native plants and the wildlife that depend on them.           


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