Q: I have heard from many people that bradford pears split as they age. We lost our after it split off one branch and then the rest came down on our porch. I guess the wood is soft and splits at the crotch of the tree.
A: That's just what Bradford Pears do. Their wood is soft and they haved narrow crotches so any strong wind wrecks havoc with them.
Despite their standing as one of the most popular landscape trees, Bradford pears aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.
For despite all the beauty they lend to thousands of landscapes throughout the region, the trees are plagued with one fatal flaw: due to their combination of vigorous growth, weak wood and poor branch structure, they often begin falling apart after only 20 years.
Experts say homeowners and others would be far better off buying other trees – trees that lend beauty to the landscape and last longer.
The Worst Tree Sold In America - The Bradford Pear Is Pure Junk.
[this is a 1997 piece from John Shelley's Garden Center & Nursery in Pennsylvania who published it on their website ]
For 8 years, we've been telling the public about the negative aspects of the Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana), as being one of the 5 worst trees anyone could buy.
Thousands of these beautiful, but garbage-quality trees are planted all over the region and should be removed en masse everywhere. Bradford Pears are very fast growers, nice flowering in the Spring, but when they reach 13-15 years old, they will fall apart, sooner rather than later.
The Bradford's wood is so brittle from growing so fast, a snow or ice storm will collapse the tree and bingo, firewood. The other main problem is the whorl, or where the large branches emanate from is a central point that weakens as the trees grow large, occasionally up to 35-50ft.
Remember The Blizzard of '96? So many fell apart that thousands of York County residents are still burning Bradford Pear firewood.
Hybridizing this tree was a very big mistake by the Nursery Industry. After being rushed prematurely into production in the 60's without benefit of field trials, it's faults are now being realized and the customer will have to pay again when the tree collapses, just as it begins to really mature and look nice. The so-called "new & improved" Bradford Pear is a sham also. Don't ever buy these trees either.
Any garden center or nursery that sells either the Bradford or Improved Bradford Pears is not worthy of your business. They're substandard operations. They know better than to sell a piece of junk, such as the Bradford Pear.
Good quality garden centers and nurseries will tell you the truth about such bad plant material; the seedy operations will lie to your face in favor of a quick sale and you'll pay dearly about 13-15 years down the road. Don't be fooled by them: demand quality flowering pears.
The Redspire, Aristocrat, Chanticleer and Cleveland Select are good quality, long-lived ornamental pears, worthy of purchasing. If a garden center or nursery directs you to one of these cultivars, they probably can be trusted with your concerns about plant material.
[The following was published by the Baltimore Sun on August 17, 1977 by Erin Texeira.]
The Bradford pear was born between the baby boomers and Generation X and reared in the suburbs. Now middle age is hitting with a vengeance.
This lovely, low-maintenance tree, created by government arborists in the early 1960s, is known for the shock of white blossoms that coat its limbs in the spring.
But, as it ages, the Bradford is also becoming known for something else.
``They can fall apart at any time,'' said Bob Rouse, staff arborist for the National Arborist Association. ``You never can be sure. It's not dangerous unless someone happens to be walking under it when one of the branches fails.''
This was not what scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Introduction Station in Glenn Dale had in mind as they worked during the 1950s developing -- or selecting, as tree people say -- the Bradford.
It was introduced to the public in 1963 and proved as popular as that year's other newcomer -- the Beatles.
A fast-growing shade tree, the Bradford seemed perfect for the country's rapidly spreading suburban developments. Bradford pears were planted by the tens of thousands throughout the mid-Atlantic, South and Midwest, tree experts say.
They resisted most pests, provided great shade, turned crimson in fall and could adjust to just about any climate.
Streets in places such as Columbia are lined with them. In older cities -- such as Baltimore -- they were put in as roads were improved and widened.
Now you can find Bradford pears -- and the problems they are starting to cause -- everywhere, from St. John's Lane in Ellicott City to Reisterstown Road in Pikesville to Charles Street in Baltimore.
``At the time it came out, the Bradford pear was very new, very exciting,'' said Georgia Eacker, a master gardener at the Howard County Cooperative Extension Service. ``People just planted them wholesale.''
Many of the trees planted in a euphoric landscaping rush -- ``People thought they had found the perfect tree,'' said one landscape architect -- have reached maturity. The older they get, the more they fall apart, wreaking havoc with city and private gardens, obstructing roads and keeping tree specialists busy answering emergency calls.
``I wish I had a dollar for every Bradford pear I've taken down in the last 15 years,'' said Matt Anacker, owner of A & A Tree Experts in Pikesville.
Frank Santamour, head of tree research at the U.S. National Arboretum and one of the scientists who helped introduce the Bradford in the 1960s, has fond memories of those early trees.
``It looked like a lollipop -- its form was absolutely lovely,'' he said.
``It looks great even when it's young because all the branches come from the same place,'' he said. ``And that's the rub with this tree.''
Trees with staggered branches evenly distribute their weight along the trunk. But that's not the case with the Bradfords. As the branches grow out from the top of the trunk, stress increases on that point. During their 25-year life span, the trees can grow as high as 50 feet. Eventually, many split under the weight of the branches.
If the branches are thinned when the trees are young, the problem can often be prevented, said arborist Rouse.
But no one knew a problem existed until about 15 years ago, he said. Word spread slowly.
``We had absolutely no problems until last fall,'' said Peggy Crowley of Baltimore who has two Bradfords about 17 years old. ``In about a three-week period, we had three huge branches down. The next one will probably come down on my patio.''
She plans to have the trees removed this winter.
But when asked who is to blame for the Bradford problem, tree experts shrug. When trees are engineered in labs and introduced to the public with little testing, such problems are bound to arise, they say.
``This tree came out with very little clone testing,'' Santamour said. ``They knew they could propagate it, and they did it, and off it went.''
Today, many tree experts refuse to recommend Bradfords, which some call ``temporary trees'' because they often become unhealthy after about a decade or so.
In many public areas, tree experts now avoid planting them. Several dozen were ordered to be removed from a park in Atlanta last year.
In Baltimore, they have not been planted for at least a decade, said Jim Dicker, the city's head arborist, whose crews remove about 100 Bradfords a year and repair as many as 200 more.
Even so, some private homeowners still yearn for those white blossoms, so some nurseries provide them. And this promises to create Bradford problems for many years to come, Dicker said.
``Any time you have a big storm, you can pretty much predict you're going to get a call on the Bradford pear,'' he said. ``The pagers go off at 2 a.m. and it's like, 'Here we go again.' ''
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