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Flowering Pear Trees, The Signal of Spring!

flowering pears

Well, after another typically atypical winter season, spring has finally arrived on our dreary doorstep. What better sign to usher in spring than the explosion of white across the county- the Bradford Pears have popped! God has such an ironic sense of humor - we are tired of snowfall, but elated at the first flowers of spring, the white Bradford Pears.

spring blooming pear trees st louis

The Botany Behind the Pear Trees

The correct name really is the Callery Pear, Bradford being just one of almost twenty recognized cultivars. We have all heard about the problems with the Bradford Pear...splitting, weak branches, and other issues. So, the horticultural industry promoted better cultivars including Aristocrat, Capital, Redspire, Cleveland Select, & Trinity, just to name of few.

All of these pear tree cultivars have the traits of profuse spring flowering and bright fall color. They vary in width from 12’ to 40’, making them seem ideal for a specimen in the front yard as well as a narrow screen planting to hide the unsightly neighbor’s rear yard. But alas, the pear problem is far from being resolved. In fact, we might say it has just begun...

The Start of the Pear Tree Problem is in Cross-Pollination

Traditionally, the fruit produced by the individual cultivars is sterile. In other words the pears do not produce seeds capable of producing new plants. Some might even say they never knew that pears produce fruit. The 1/2" diameter persistent fruit is the only non-showy aspect of this tree’s life. The small fruits are typically dark green or olive brown and the only critters not to miss the fruits are squirrels and birds! And here lies the first leg of the emerging pear problem.

spring blooming pear trees st louis

The pears, when planted close to one another, cross pollinate and the result is a fruit loaded with viable seeds. We do not regulate which cultivar can be planted where, and who would have thought the end result would be a proliferation of trees like this state has not seen since the arrival of bush honeysuckle in the late 1960's? If you drive Hwy 64 corridor from 270 to Wentzville, you’ll realize all the white flowering trees along the highway right of ways were planted by our feathered forestry friends.

The Pear Tree Disease Problem

The second leg of the issue is a disease oriented one. For a very long time, fire blight never really was an issue for us in the St. Louis area. Fire blight is a bacterium which infects plants typically during springtime. It normally spreads via pollinating insects at flowering. Most typically, fire blight is an issue for fruit producing members of the Rose family, ie. Pears & Apples.

diseased pear tree fire blight

As with many tree insect and disease issues, we have watched fire blight march west to find us here in the Midwest. Fire blight is extremely difficult to control through horticultural practices. Best practices include aggressive spraying (in orchards), aggressive pruning and choosing resistant varieties.

Bottom line -- here is the real issue: when you marry an aggressive escaped species with a non controllable disease we have created a recipe for disaster. The very pears which we are admiring this spring (the ones planted all over the county) are perhaps the most susceptible of all rosaceous plant material to fire blight.

diseased pear tree fire blight

What Can We Do

While you may be able to protect your trees, the shopping centers, businesses and highway department will need to protect theirs. I dare say no one in town would rather spend their pothole repair money on protecting an escaped exotic species so that our highways look pretty.

Check into different types of trees besides the flowering pears. We wrote an article on beautiful spring blooming trees earlier this year that may interest you!

When the world wearies, and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.


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Topics: St. Louis Locals Tree & Shrub Care Dowco Specific Plant Care

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