The US Department of Agriculture does make mistakes and the Bradford cultivar of the Chinese Callery Pear is one big error. The government agency released the Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana “Bradford”) in the mid-1960’s as a good, ornamental tree and it was supported by the First Lady, Ladybird Johnson, who promoted plantings in Washington, DC. During its early years, the Bradford Pear is symmetrical, has a welcoming Spring white blossoms, and sports a dark red Fall color. Plus it was promoted as a sterile hybrid meaning it could easily be controlled. Wrong!
The white blossoms had a disagreeable odor, any strong winds broke branches at random, the Fall color sometimes didn’t happen with early frosts, and as if that weren’t enough , birds ate the frost-softened tiny fruit and dispersed seeds everywhere. The new seedlings that emerged were not true to the cultivar. They were no longer thornless and became invasive in vacant fields and along fence lines everywhere. Driving along I-75 in early Spring, you will see hundreds of escaped Callery Pears (no longer Bradford cultivars) on hillsides and in fallow fields. Get near one and they will bite you in their tree-like way.
They became popular in new residential subdivisions and office parks during the 1970’s and 1980’s and initially they were attractive but all of those initial plantings have now died as their lifetime is but 25 years. During that short, by tree standards, interval, storms wrecked havoc on midsize trees. I remember one lower limb that fell at my previous home and it had to extend into the street at least 30 feet and was massive. It took hours to chainsaw the limb and remove the wood and branches. All ten of the Bradford Pears were removed that summer at considerable expense. Underneath that impenetrable canopy of shiny leaves were a half-dozen dogwoods which were stunted due to lack of sunlight.
So is there a reason to buy and plant a Bradford Pear tree? No! None! Don’t. They are available as inexpensive “fruit” trees at all the box stores every Spring, To the uninitiated, their blooms are irresistible until you get close enough to smell them.
Instead of planting a Bradford Pear, if you have shade, plant a dogwood (Do not put a young dogwood in full, afternoon sun!). If sun is all you have, consider Crape Myrtles, Hawthorns, Redbuds, or any of a number of other Spring or Summer blooming trees. All are better than a Bradford Pear. If you have already planted a Bradford Pear, think about replacing it. It will grow very quickly, produce quantities of weak lower branches, and spread its seeds through birds to surrounding land.
Bradford Pears are pretty from a distance early each Spring but a frost will decimate the blossoms and for a few days of blooms, you will have decades of problems.