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”.

oz tree2
Also, avoid talking apple trees.


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.
Siberian Elm

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 leaves.
  • 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.
Cottonwood leaves. Photo from Morton Arboretum.


Oh, and I would stay away from ents.


Are there any trees you would advise friends to stay away from?

70 Comments on “Friends Don’t Let Friends Plant Bradford Pear”

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

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