Friends Don’t Let Friends Plant Bradford Pear
Like you, I get a daily barrage of unwanted emails from, it seems, every website I have ever visited to make any kind of purchase. Approximately 99% of these missives get deleted unopened. Recently, I got an email newsletter from Angie’s List that was about to share the fate of all that had come before it until my eye caught the title: “5 Types of Trees to Avoid”.
Curious to see what sort of horticultural advice was coming out of Angie’s List, I opened the email. Here are the 5 on Angie’s arboreal blacklist:
- Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), because of how it poisons other plants with the toxin juglone. There was an enormous old Black Walnut in our neighbor’s yard when we lived in Wisconsin, half my backyard was under its canopy, and I fantasized about girdling it in the middle of the night. So I have no quarrel with Angie on this one.
- Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana), because of its propensity for broken branches. I might add that it can spread aggressively, so no argument here.
- Ash trees (Fraxinus sp.). This one seems pretty obvious – Emerald Ash Borer, duh.
- Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba). Ginkgos are not among my favorite trees, but they do have spectacular autumn color. I wouldn’t put them near the top of a public enemies list. Yes, the female trees have messy, yucky fruits – but there are male varieties available. None of the Ginkgos in our neighborhood seem to bear any fruit.
- Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua). The spiky gumball fruits are incredibly annoying – and painful if you step on one barefoot. Away from foot traffic, though, it’s a pretty nice native North American tree with splendid fall color. In this case, again, I think Angie is being a little unfair.
Reading this article made me think of trees that I would warn friends away from. There were three that quickly came to mind.
- Norway Maple (Acer platanoides). A plague upon so many American suburbs, where they are overused as street trees. Norway Maples are invasive, they have shade so dense it’s almost suffocating, plus they have nasty, greedy surface roots. Shudder.
- Siberian Elm (Ulmus parvifolia). There was one of these in our back garden when we moved here. It attracts lots of insects, so the birds like it. However, it’s quite invasive and it’s always dropping large, heavy branches on whatever lies below – I fear that some day it might give me a fatal whack on the noggin while I’m sitting on the patio, lost in thought.
- Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides). OK, I realize that this is a tree with significant wildlife value. It’s just that I can’t STAND that cottonwood fluff that always falls in time to mess up the Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) flowers. Call me shallow, go ahead.
Oh, and I would stay away from ents.
Are there any trees you would advise friends to stay away from?
Interesting post … Speaking of limbs of trees falling, we have various Eucalyptus trees & early pioneers call them “widow makers”! Despite the obvious hazards of a tree that regularly sheds big branches they are street trees in Canberra & this causes some bickering between neighbours. I’m sitting right on the fence on this one as they are home to all the birds that feature in my blog.
Yeah, I’ve heard Eucalyptus causes some real problems in California.
Gingkos are grafted male cultivars nowadays. However, even in my own stock, I have seen suckers bypass the scion, and get ignored by the crews who should be removing suckers. in groups of homogeneous street trees, there are sometimes such trees, which can be female. Not only are the messy and stinky, but some of the females have broad and weird looking canopies. The weird thing is that when I was in high school, I sometimes went with friends to pick fruit from big gingko trees near San Jose State University. They were NASTY, and we picked them up off the sidewalk. Like dude; you don’t eat anything that you found on a sidewalk in San Jose! Anyway, my friends loved them, and there were other Vietnamese people there picking up the fruit too. Now, Chinese people get them first. One of my friends planted two of my understock (ungrafted) trees as fruit trees, hoping that one or both might be female. ICK!
Well, if people can eat durian, I suppose they can eat anything.
You know, I have not tried that yet. I see it in the market, and it doesn’t look good.
I would compare it to a combination of peach and dirty socks.
Ew! But that will not stop me from trying it if I get the chance.
I have two walnut trees in the garden, there were about 8 when we moved in!! I left these two thinking that I’d at least have walnuts to eat – we don’t because the tree has some decease that means most are black inside, but I digress, now that the trees are quite large their leaves are definitely poisoning the plants underneath. I do wish I had taken them all out! I may plant one of the others on your list though, I’d love more autumn colour so I’m considering Liquidambar. Can you tell me more about the sticky fruit problem please.
The fruits are like spiky golf balls. Here’s a link. https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/liquidambar-styraciflua/
Beware of the river birch–a pretty, multi-trunk tree with exfoliating bark (had to have it) that drove me crazy by shedding hundreds of small branches in any and every storm. Thankfully, I moved…and will never plant another one!
That’s interesting. I don’t have any, but the River Birch are pretty common around here.
Hey Marian, is it possible my comments on your blog are going into the spam folder.
Here gingkos are increasingly being planted as street trees as they are so disease resistant. We will be glad of them when pollution and pathogens have killed off the rest of our trees.
That’s a sad thought.
Oh! Mimosa trees are gorgeous in bloom and hummers love them, but what a mess when the flowers fall off (have to be raked up), and they seed themselves everywhere. I enjoy the one in the neighbor’s yard, across the street and several houses down. No closer please!
Ah, good to know.
When we lived in the Midwest, we have Bradford Pears lining our driveway. Beautiful. Well, until the storms came and split them in half. What a mess. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂
Sorry that happened to you.
Jason, it was about thirty years ago when Bradford pears were all the rage and they were planted as street trees here in every new subdivision. We’re paying the price now. They are infiltrating every forested area.
Oh, dear. I’m sorry to hear that.
I don’t like Ash tree seeds. They are worse than maple tree tags. Zillions of them and if all Ash trees shed limbs like our Ash it is dangerous.
Well, if the Emerald Ash Borers continue to have their way, that won’t be as much of a problem.
In the last 40 or so years, in this neck of the woods, Ornamental Plums (Prunus cerasifera) were a popular choice and were overplanted. They’re not horrible trees but don’t live incredibly long and don’t like to be pruned. I’m with you on ginkgo trees. Love them but then I’ve never encountered a fruiting female.
Here you see those Ornamental Plums only occasionally. There’s one in the neighbor’s yard across the alley.
Let’s face it, nature is “messy” by our criteria. Plant trees, like all plants, in “the right place.” All native trees, and some non-natives, have good and inconvenient characteristics. We need to do our research before planting or removing them. The canopy of any tree provides benefits that often outweigh its inconvenient aspects. Labeling any tree species as bad is uneducated and bad! Trees matter.
Fair enough. I wasn’t trying to say that some trees are bad, exactly, only that some trees are not a good fit for smallish Midwestern yards.
I agree with Paul Hang. If someone is concerned about a tree being messy then they shouldn’t plant it on their property, but all trees serve a purpose. I am reminded of the old adage that a weed is a plant that grows where you don’t want it and I think that can be applied to trees as well.
It’s not necessarily messiness that I object to. But I am talking about planting trees in small gardens in the Midwest, not banning trees altogether (unless they are invasive).
I get lots of clients that don’t want plants that drop leaves. It is hard to remain straight faced and or make sarcastic remarks. I try and look at it as an opportunity to practice grace! The list has some merit but I can’t agree with all of them. Personally I love leaves….i admit we do have ours cleaned up now and again. I am not sure why Bradford Pears are popular in Houston. I think they are ugly. I am not terribly found of Pecan trees…but where I live used to be a Pecan grove. Now the trees are reaching the end of there life span and so not looking great. I think the key to trees is putting the right tree in the right place.
For the clients who don’t want plants that drop leaves, have you suggested plastic plants?
Lol…tempting but no! 😄
Lots of interesting information here. I didn’t know about Gingko fruits at all. Liquidambar mostly doesn’t produce the spikey seed cases in the UK (the cultivar ‘Worplesdon’ is the only one that does).
I suppose you grow mostly sterile varieties – I didn’t know there were any.
When we lived in Massachusetts, we had a quaking aspen in our side yard that drove me nuts with the clones it kept sending up from its roots. It was a pretty enough tree, but I would not recommend it as a suburban garden tree.
Good to know. We don’t see Aspens around here.
Silver maple are on my avoid list, even though they are native – whirly birds seeds and surface roots are its main debits. Non-native mulberries – invasive and impossible to eradicate, especially when entwined in chain link. Also, anything that is already planted in the neighborhood – I want to contribute to arboreal diversity. I’d think twice before planting willow or sycamore – messy. I like my Crimson King maple but would not recommend it unless you want something that grows painfully slowly.
We have a Silver Maple in our back garden. I know it can be a nuisance, but I rather like it. The small leaves make a nice dappled shade and for some reason the roots have not been a big problem for me. Mulberries – yes, a real nuisance tree, though my kids used to like climbing the ones in the alley behind our house – then return home with purple hands and faces.
We have sycamore’s here, they grow like weeds, elder can be a pert too.xxx
I grew up on a street called Sycamore Lane. I didn’t know they could be a nuisance.
I would only warn people to be very careful when they buy any tree labelled ‘dwarf’… most of them aren’t!
Yes, I’ve noticed that is often true.
I love weeping willows, as long as they’re in someone else’s yard. They’re a “self pruning” tree that needs a lot of cleanup. The same is true of catalpa.
I like them planted by a pond or lake.
Sticky as heck
Do you mean lime as in the fruit or as in linden trees?
No not the fruit, Lime trees or Tilia cordata the native Lime suffers from aphid attack and the honeydew, the waste of the aphid covers anything below in a sticky residue which can then develop a sooty mould. I did not realise it is also known as a Linden tree
That’s what they are called in the USA and Germany, have you ever heard of unter den linden in Berlin?
Aside from the Bradford Pear’s broken branches, they really stink when blooming. Ugh. Hate the things. On the other hand, I love sweet gums, in all their messy glory. Even the little prickly gum balls delight me. As for those talking apple trees, they gave me nightmares for years when I was little–much worse than the flying monkeys.
I never noticed that about the Bradford Pear. As for they Sweet gums, you can have them.
Seriously, you’ve never noticed the smell? In parking lots down south that are bordered by Bradford pears, it’s enough to knock you over. It’s not just me: https://www.npr.org/2015/04/24/401943000/whats-that-smell-the-beautiful-tree-thats-causing-quite-a-stink and http://www.businessinsider.com/bradford-pear-tree-semen-sex-smell-2013-4
Plant an oak!
Always a good idea, if you have room.
We have lots of ash and silver birch, I don’t mind the leaves, sweeping them up is good for the waistline, but the seeds! Every year I pull out hundreds, if not thousands of seedlings. If no gardening was done for ten years. I would be living in a forest!
Yes, that’s how I feel about the elm and maple and mulberry seeds.
I agree with you. I have a sweetgum and I love it. Totally agree on the cottonwood. Also, I would add corkscrew willow and box elders to the avoid list. When I moved here 45 years ago, the township had a list of trees you were not supposed to plant. Over the years the list was not enforced, but they need to bring it back. Glossy-leaved buckthorn is taking over the community and I fear that someday that is all that will be growing here.
Buckthorn is a disaster! Not long after moving here I took down three very sizable Buckthorn trees.
I doubt if anyone would be planting it one purpose, but Box Elder, or Ashleaf Maple is the tree that comes to my mind…we have several of them on our property.
I’ve heard Box Elder can be a nuisance, not sure if I have ever seen one.
I don’t like aspen Jason. Its roots are invasive and a lot of leaves dropped in my pond make me upset.
I’ve heard that aspen makes substantial colonies.
Bradford pears also aren’t long-lived or at least they aren’t in Texas. I generally agree with the list.
I second your list, but for some reason don’t like Honeylocust as well. I wish I had a reason, but it’s just that vague dislike which you can’t put a finger on. Maybe I just haven’t really gotten to know one yet.
Interesting. I never developed strong feelings about Honey Locust one way or the other.
Mulberry Trees!!! I was surrounded by them in our old house in Glen Ellyn. Out here in Paw Paw they proliferate in the fence line. Boy, are they disgusting!
They do proliferate. There were lots of mulberries growing in the alley behind the house we lived in about 15 years ago. The kids liked to eat the fruit, they would come home half purple.
Here are some trees to consider for small lots in the Midwest: Dogwood (Cornus florida) many cultivars available; Red Buckeye (Aesculus Pavia); Japanese Maples; Serviceberry (Amelanchier) there are tree forms ‘Lustre’; Paw Paw (Asimina triloba; Redbud (Cercis Canadensis) many cultivars. These are all natives and rarely grow
over 30′ tall.
Good suggestions – though I’m sure you know that Japanese Maples are not native. Cornus florida does not grow so well here, but I do have some C. racemosa. I also do have several Amelanchier.
I love all trees. Then again, if I had to live in close proximity to some of these I may change my mind after reading comments here!
Hello Jason, I’ve trying to think but can’t really come up with any. There are trees I won’t have in the garden as they’re planted everywhere else and all around, in the woodlands too and not appropriate for the garden (right plant, right place). I’m surprised Liquidambar is on the backlist, we can’t get enough of them here, their autumn foliage is incredible!