Stillwater News Press

March 3, 2014

A beautiful invader

By Dwayne Elmore
Stillwater News Press

STILLWATER, Okla. — Most of you have probably noticed trees are beginning to break bud and bloom. One of the earliest, and certainly one of the showiest, is the callery pear. The cultivated form of this tree is commonly called Bradford pear.

This Asian import has some good attributes, including early spring bloom, fall color and dense foliage. Consequently, it has been widely planted across many portions of the U.S., including Oklahoma. While callery pears certainly add beauty to our early spring days, it does not belong outside of our lawns. Unfortunately this plant has proven to not stay put.

It can be an aggressive invader of native plant communities in many areas of the country and is beginning to creep into prairies and forests in Oklahoma. Callery pears can rapidly convert a prairie into woodland. This not only takes up space for native plants, but it changes the wildlife that will use the area.

So, what is the home landscaper to do? You might consider a native alternative. Plants such as redbud, American plum and Mexican plum are all good substitutes.

In addition to being early blooming themselves, they all tend to be less prone to ice damage, a common complaint regarding callery pear. Further, as they have more open foliage and limb structure, roosting grackles and starlings are rarely problems.

Callery pears are notorious for this issue in urban areas, which has lead to many homeowners and business owners to remove them. Your local county Extension office can provide other suitable alternatives for landscaping.

If you notice callery pears invading your property, early removal is critical to limit the invasion. Birds will ingest the fruit and defecate, further spreading the plant; therefore, eliminating the seed source is needed. Callery pears will often sprout from the root when cut, therefore herbicides will be needed to eliminate them.

If the tree is large, cut it down and then treat the stump with a systemic glyphosate or triclopyr-based herbicide. The callery pear is an example of the many nonnative invasive species we have in Oklahoma. Many of them behave well, but some become problems.

While the callery pear certainly is an attractive plant for the landscape, there are suitable alternatives that do not negatively impact our native Oklahoma plants and wildlife.

Consider them as you shop for your next landscape plant.

Dwayne Elmore is Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist in the department of natural resource ecology and management.